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PARMANAND KATARA VS UNION OF INDIA

1989 AIR 2039, 1989 SCR (3) 997


BENCH: 

MISRA RANGNATH OZA, G.L. (J)


PETITIONER: Parmanand Katara, Human Rights Activist 

RESPONDENT: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Indian Medical Council, Indian Medical Association


This Landmark case of Parmanand Katara vs Union of India enlarged the scope of medical care in India which casts an obligation on doctors and both public and private hospitals to give medical attention to victims of road accidents without the prior filing of legal requirements. The case deals with article 21 of the constitution and clauses 12 and 13 of The Code of Medical Ethics, 1970. Whereas Article 21 guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, clause 12 represents the duty imposed on doctors and practitioners to serve and treat those injured to their best without rescuing themselves from performing their professional duty and clause 13 strictly barred wilful negligence by practitioners. 


FACTS OF THE CASE: 

  • Petitioner is a Human right Activist, who filed this public interest litigation based on a newspaper report concerning the death of a scooterist who was hit by a speeding car.

  • When the injured person was taken to a nearby hospital he was not given instant treatment and the doctors refused to attend to the patient, the doctors asked to take the injured person to another hospital that was 20 km away.

  • The scooterist died while on the way to the other hospital.


ISSUE RAISED: 

  • Whether a person can be allowed for treatment by hospital authorities in accident cases, without having legal formalities before the victim is rendered medical aid?


CONTENTIONS OF THE PETITIONER: 

The petitioner had moved to the supreme court through Public interest litigation under article 32 of the constitution asking to issue direction to the Union of India, that every injured citizen brought for medical treatment should be given instant medical aid to preserve the life.

The petitioners also contended relying upon clauses 12 and 13 of The Code of Medical Ethics, 1970 stating the duty of the medical practitioners to serve the injured with their expertise and strictly barred wilful negligence respectively, the petitioner also argued that the procedural criminal law should be able to operate in such a way that it avoids negligent death and in case of any breach of such direction, there must be an appropriate compensation admissible. 


CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS: 

The respondents contended that the hindrance in this process is the legal requirement to complete all mandatory legal formalities in the presence of a police officer before initiating treatment for the victim. One of the defendants, the Medical Council of India, raised two related clauses of the Medical Ethics Code 1970, which set forth duties and obligations for physicians and medical practitioners to render their professional services. 

  

The two clauses mentioned by the respondents are described below: 

Clause 10 of The Code of Medical Ethics, 1970 states that a physician is not required to treat every patient. However, in emergencies such as road accident victims, the practitioner must be ready to respond and provide services when necessary. 

 and Clause 13 of The Code of Medical Ethics, 1970 states that practitioners will be free to choose whom to serve, except in case of emergencies. It also further states that a medical physician must not refuse to treat or attending someone and barred wilful commission of negligence.

The council made a statement saying that no prohibition in law would justify the actions of the doctor in not taking cognizance and rendering medical attention to the injured patient.


JUDGEMENT: 

The court held the following 

  •  “ Article 21 of the Indian Constitution casts the primary obligation on the state to preserve life. There can be no second opinion on the fact that the preservation of human life is of paramount importance. Once human life is lost, it can’t be restored as resurrection is beyond the capacity of a man. “ 

  •  Every doctor, whether at a government hospital or otherwise, has the professional obligation to extend his or her services with due expertise for protecting life whether the victim be an innocent person or a guilty criminal, it is the duty of those in charge to perform their duty as a medical practitioner 

  •  For lawyers and judges and all others, those who are concerned should keep in mind that a person in all medical professions should not be unnecessarily harassed for purposes of interrogation or any other formalities.

  • Further, the person not should be dragged for or during interrogations at the police station. Such instances must be avoided as far as possible.

  • The Court also gave direction to publicize the decision of the case through national media, the TV Channel ( Doordarshan and the All India Radio ), and it can also be done through the High court and the Sessions Judges


CONCLUSION: 

The case emphasizes the protection of life as once human life is lost it cannot be restored and the obligation of the state to preserve life is enshrined under article 21 of the Indian constitution and that a doctor at a hospital is positioned to meet the state’s obligation and is duty bound to discharge his/her professional services for the protection of a person’s life, regardless of who that individual may be, be it a criminal or an innocent civilian. The doctors have to perform their duty.


This article is written by Asma Ashraf of Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology.

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