15 January, 2017

Doctors found guilty of medical negligence will not lose their licence to practise, the Supreme Court has held in a significant decision on the ground that ‘humans can err’.

The decision came on a plea filed by a US-based Indian origin doctor Kunal Saha, who lost his wife Anuradha in 1998 and won a medical compensation claim of over Rs6 crore awarded by the Supreme Court in 2013 against Kolkata-based Advanced Medicare Research Institute (AMRI) and three doctors.

Saha, however, again approached the apex court last week seeking cancellation of licence of the three doctors, who are registered medical practitioners with the West Bengal Medical Council.

The Bench, while being careful not to harm the sentiments of Saha, who argued in person, said that justice had been done in his case with the doctors being slapped with a heavy penalty, the highest compensation ever to be awarded by the top court in the history of medical negligence cases.

The Bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud said, “As judges we are humans. We also can commit mistakes. If we are to order what you are demanding, what signal are we sending… for we do not know whether they were actually negligent or not? Only God knows whether they were negligent.”

An emotional Saha said, “There is no gain for me as I have lost everything. I did not approach the court for compensation but to ensure that such doctors do not remain in practice.

In the US, if a doctor is charged of negligence, he can lose his certificate of practice. The real deterrent will be if Medical Council terminates the licence of the negligent doctors.”

He had been fighting a legal battle for close to 19 years ever since his wife died on May 28. Anuradha was a US-based child psychologist who was diagnosed with a rare skin disease toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) on her visit to her hometown Kolkata in April 1998. She consulted doctors at AMRI when she first developed skin rashes. They administered her anti-allergic drugs which precipitated the rashes leading to further deterioration of skin. After a week’s treatment, as things went out of hand, she was shifted to Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, where she breathed her last.

The SC had in October 2013 directed the AMRI hospital to deposit Rs5.71 crore. The doctors -Sukumar Banerjee and Balram Prasad -were asked to deposit Rs10 lakh each while the third doctor Baidyanath Haldar was told to deposit Rs5 lakh.

While dismissing Saha’s petition, the Bench tried its best to persuade Saha to settle with what he got as the WB Medical Council had once rejected his demand to terminate the doctors. “In year 2009, we made a declaration that these doctors cannot be prosecuted for criminal negligence but civil damages alone. Then in October 2013, you were awarded the highest compensation. These doctors have been punished, defamed for being negligent and made to pay huge penalty. You must now rest peacefully and not be agitated. Your complaint against the doctors has attained finality. It cannot be reopened after 19 years.”