Doctors Face Prison Time for Negligence-Caused Deaths Under New Law

Under new law, doctors face two years of imprisonment for death due to negligence

Doctors who cause death due to negligence may face up to two years of imprisonment under a new criminal law proposed by the Law Commission of India. The draft bill, titled “The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2019”, aims to deter medical malpractice and ensure accountability of health professionals.

According to the bill, a doctor will be guilty of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” if he or she causes the death of a patient by “a rash or negligent act or omission”. The punishment for this offence will be imprisonment for a term that may extend to two years, or with a fine, or with both.

The bill also defines “rash or negligent act or omission” as an act or omission that deviates from the standard of care expected of a reasonable medical practitioner in the same field and under the same circumstances. The bill clarifies that a doctor will not be liable if the death is caused by an error of judgment, or by following a generally accepted practice, or by a reasonable mistake of fact.

The Law Commission, in its report accompanying the bill, said that the existing laws are inadequate to deal with cases of medical negligence and that there is a need to balance the rights of patients and doctors. The report cited several instances of medical negligence in India, such as wrong diagnosis, wrong treatment, wrong surgery, wrong prescription, and wrong blood transfusion.

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The report also quoted various experts and stakeholders who supported the need for a specific law on medical negligence. Dr. R.K. Mani, Chairman of the Ethics Committee of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine, said that “the fear of criminal prosecution will make doctors more careful and responsible”. Dr. K.K. Aggarwal, former President of the Indian Medical Association, said that “the law will protect honest doctors and punish only those who are grossly negligent”.

However, the bill has also faced criticism from some quarters, who argue that it will create fear and insecurity among doctors and hamper their professional judgment. Dr. Jayesh Lele, Secretary General of the Indian Medical Association, said that “the law will lead to defensive medicine and increase the cost of treatment”. He also said that “the law will encourage frivolous litigation and harassment of doctors”.

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The bill is yet to be introduced in Parliament and is open for public feedback till February 6, 2019.