Pt. Parmandand Katara v. Union of India and Ors

1989 AIR 2039; 1989 SCR (3) 997; 1989 SCC (4) 286; JT 1989 (3) 496; 1989 SCALE (2) 380
Download Judgment: English
Country: India
Region: Asia
Year: 1989
Court: Supreme Court
Health Topics: Health care and health services, Hospitals, Medical malpractice
Human Rights: Right to health, Right to life
Tags: Duty of care, Emergency care, Negligence, Tort

After being knocked down in a motor accident with a speeding car, a scooter driver was taken to the nearest hospital by a good Samaritan. The nearest hospital refused to treat the victim. It directed him to another hospital twenty kilometres away which was apparently better suited to provide treatment in medico-legal cases. The victim died before arriving at the next hospital.

The Code of Medical Ethics clauses 10 and 13, published by the Medical Council of India (the Council), and approved by the Central Government under s.33 of the Indian Medical Council Act 1860 detailed that a medical practitioner is under no obligation to provide medical services except in emergency situations or when there is an established obligation. These guidelines were supported in an affidavit by the Union of India.

The Council also submitted an affidavit in support of these provisions, noting particularly that “formalities under the Criminal Procedure Code or any other local laws should not stand in the way of the medical practitioners attending an injured person.”

In the affidavit, the Council also submitted that the Government of India should take steps to encourage doctors to provide treatment in legally sensitive circumstances. The affidavit further mentioned the Council’s position that doctors should be “free from fear that they would be unnecessarily harassed or prosecuted for doing his duty without first complying with police formalities.”

In agreement with the Applicant’s and concurring Respondent’s contentions, the Court held that “there can be no second opinion that preservation of human life is of paramount importance.” Further, the Court also held that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution obliges the State to preserve life. A “doctor at the Government hospital positioned to meet this State obligation is, therefore, duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving life.” A victim had to be treated irrespective of him being guilty or innocent. It also held that not only government doctors but “every doctor” is under a professional obligation to extend his services for protecting life thereby bringing private nursing homes and doctors within the ambit of this duty.

The Court ordered that “zonal regulations and classifications cannot become fetters in the process of discharge of obligations” and, irrespective of existing rules or instructions, would not be operative in medico-legal cases.

It ordered this decision to be widely publicised so that “every doctor wherever he be within the territory of India should forthwith be aware of this position.”

“The patient whether he be an innocent person or be a criminal liable to punishment under the laws of the society, it is the obligation of those who are in-charge of the health of the community to preserve life so that the innocent may be protected and the guilty may be punished. Social laws do not contemplate death by negligence to tantamount to legal punishment.” (1989) 3 SCR 997, pg. 1005.

“A doctor at the Government hospital…is, therefore, duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving life. Every doctor whether at a Government hospital or otherwise has the professional obligation to extend his services with due expertise for protecting life. No law or State action can intervene to avoid/delay the discharge of the paramount obligation cast upon members of the medical profession.” (1989) 3 SCR 997, pg. 1006.