The Kerala High Court has ruled that every patient’s death cannot be termed medical negligence, adding a doctor can be held liable for medical negligence only if the patient died as a direct or proximate result of their acts, and not simply because things went wrong due to mischance or misfortune.
“There should be sufficient evidence to accuse a medical professional of such negligence. The death should be a ‘direct or proximate result’ of the negligent act alleged to attract criminal liability,” it held, as it acquitted five medical professionals (two doctors and three nurses) convicted by a trial court on charges of causing death by negligence and others following the death of a 37-year-old woman who underwent a sterilisation procedure by laparoscopy in 2006.
The court further stated that doctors are volunteers who take the risk of dealing with “the most intricate, delicate, and complex machine on earth – the human body”.
“When things go wrong, it is not always the fault of the doctor. A complication by itself does not constitute negligence. There is a big difference between an adverse or untoward event and negligence. However, there is a growing tendency to accuse the doctor of an adverse or untoward event,” it said.
It was also pointed out that in order to convict a medical professional for medical negligence, the prosecution must prove culpable and gross negligence beyond a reasonable doubt.
It should be shown that the doctor did or failed to do something which no ordinary skilled medical professional would have done or failed to do.
The court also noted that there is a growing tendency among the public to accuse medical practitioners after adverse and unfortunate events, causing professional damage and emotional drain for such medical practitioners.
While the lower court sentenced the accused to undergo simple imprisonment, the high court, after close examination, concluded that the medical negligence case would not stand against the accused and acquitted them.