The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that even death of a patient cannot, on the face of it, be considered to be medical negligence.
The top court said that it clearly emerges from the exposition of law that a medical practitioner is not to be held liable simply because things went wrong from mischance or misadventure or through an error of judgement in choosing one reasonable course of treatment in preference to another.
It added, “the doctors are expected to take reasonable care, but no professional can assure that the patient will come back home after overcoming the crisis”.
“However, in an unfortunate case death may occur. It will be necessary that sufficient material on medical evidence should be available before the adjudicating authority arrives at a conclusion that the death is due to medical negligence. Even death of a patient cannot, on the face of it, be considered to be medical negligence,” a bench of Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka said.
The bench said that it clearly emerges from the exposition of law that a medical practitioner is not to be held liable simply because things went wrong from mischance or misadventure or through an error of judgment in choosing one reasonable course of treatment in preference to another.
“In the practice of medicine, there could be varying approaches to treatment. There could be a genuine difference of opinion. However, while adopting a course of treatment, the duty cast upon the medical practitioner is that he must ensure that the medical protocol being followed by him is to the best of his skill and with competence at his command”, the bench said.
The top court was hearing an appeal filed by a woman and her children against the order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), which arrived at a conclusion that it was not a case of post-operative medical negligence as being alleged by the appellants and dismissed the complaint.
The top court said that the sad demise of the husband after his long illness on February 3, 1996, after undergoing a Kidney transplant and post-operative complications has resulted in the initiation of the legal proceedings.
The top court said that at the given time, a medical practitioner would be liable only where his conduct fell below that of the standards of a reasonably competent practitioner in his field.
“The term “negligence” has no defined boundaries and if any medical negligence is there, whether it is pre or post-operative medical care or in the follow-up care, at any point of time by the treating doctors or anyone else, it is always open to be considered by the Courts/Commission taking note of the exposition of law laid down by this Court of which a detailed reference has been made and each case has to be examined on its own merits in accordance with law”, the bench said.
Adverting to the facts of the instant case, the bench said that the treating doctors, all were academically sound and experts in the field of kidney transplantation. It said that their disclosed qualifications and their medical expertise in the field of nephrology and surgery in kidney transplantation have not been doubted by the appellants.
“It is also not the case of the appellants that the patient was not medically treated by the well-qualified doctors at the time when kidney transplant surgery was undertaken on 12th November 1995 by the team of doctors including in the hospital which is a registered hospital under the law”, the bench said.
The bench said that complaints have been made concerning the post-operative assistance/follow up care, but from the deposition of two witnesses which has come on record, there was a complaint made by the patient of pain in his left forearm while he was being discharged on November 24, 1995, after remaining in ICU for 12 days. “Although the complaint of the patient which remained persistent could not be ruled out despite medically approved drugs being administered to him and if the patient could not be finally saved, that in itself could not be considered to be a case of post-operative medical negligence, as is being tried to be projected by the appellants on the basis of the material placed on record”, the bench said.
The bench said that no evidence has come on record at the behest of the appellants which, in any manner, could demonstrate that it was a case of post-operative medical negligence or follow-up care on the part of treating doctors.
“After going through the findings which have been returned by the Commission in the order impugned, we see no reason to differ with the view expressed by the Commission keeping in mind the tests enunciated above”, the bench held.
The bench said, “In our opinion, the Commission has not committed any manifest error in arriving at a conclusion that in post operative medical negligence or follow up care, there was no negligence being committed by the respondents which may be a foundation for entertaining the complaint filed by the appellants. In consequence thereof, the judgement of the Commission does not call for any interference by this Court”.
The bench said that it realizes the pain of losing her husband and the trauma she has suffered, but that cannot translate into a legal remedy. “Accordingly, we do not find any fault in the reasoning of the Commission, as a result, the appeal is without substance and deserves to be dismissed”, it added.
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