Right to Treatment of Patients in Medical Emergency
Updated: Jan 15
World Health Organization declared Covid-19 as a pandemic on 11th March 2020. Consequently, a nationwide lockdown was imposed on 25th March 2020 to prepare the necessary medical infrastructure to combat the pandemic. Now with the infection proliferating at full throttle, the hospitals across the country are facing an acute shortage of beds and other necessary equipment. Therefore, they are refusing to admit new patients even in critical conditions. Therefore it is imperative to delve into the laws regarding the obligation of hospitals to provide treatment to emergency patients.
The urgency of Medical Treatment During the Pandemic
The hospitals have to protect a person’s life and they have miserably flunked in fulfilling the responsibility bestowed upon them by the constitution in contemporary times. A 53-year-old man died in Bengaluru after being denied admission by 18 hospitals, a 26-year old pregnant woman died in an auto-rickshaw after being denied admission by several hospitals, an eight-month pregnant woman died in an ambulance in Noida after her family allegedly struggled for over 13 hours to get her admitted in a hospital as half-a-dozen medical facilities denied her treatment. In a similar case, a woman died after she was reportedly refused admission by five hospitals in Hyderabad. These instances are horrendous and require immediate judicial intervention as the prestigious fundamental right of life and liberty enshrined under Article 21 of the constitution is put at naught.
Article 21 is the kingpin of the constitution and it encompasses everything that empowers the dignity and liberty of an individual. The right to health is an integral part of Article 21. Health is one of the most sacrosanct and valuable rights of a citizen and equally revered obligation of the State. No matter what the circumstances, this right is indefeasible.
Hon’ble Supreme Court in Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti v. State of West Bengal (1996) 4 SCC 37 dilated upon the obligation of the State to safeguard the right to life of every person. In most unequivocal terms it held that: “The government hospitals run by the State and the medical officers employed therein are duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving human life. Failure on the part of a government hospital to provide timely medical treatment to a person in need of such treatment results in a violation of his right to life guaranteed under Article 21.” The court categorically stated that the deficiency of beds cannot be a ground for refusing admission of a critical patient and he may be treated on a trolley or a floor until a bed becomes available.
According to clause 2.1 and 2.4 of the Code of Medical Ethics Regulations 2002, the physician must treat the patients in case of an emergency. This duty of Medical Professionals was further emphasized in Pt. Parmanand Katara .v. Union of India (1989) 4 SCC 286 wherein the apex court held that” Every doctor whether at a government hospital or otherwise, has the professional obligation to extend his services with due expertise for protecting life.” The words ‘or otherwise’ clearly indicates that private hospitals also cannot absolve from their duty to treat emergency patients, though it is only a moral duty and not a legal duty, as the private hospitals are governed by their own rules and regulations and not by those made by the government.
A bare perusal of the above judgments makes it abundantly clear that Government hospitals cannot deny admission to critical patients requiring immediate treatment. Doctors and hospitals are forerunners in this battle against COVID-19. They are toiling day and night to help the nation to recuperate from this perilous pandemic. At the same time, they cannot express a cavalier attitude towards other patients who are in critical situations and might succumb to death if not given immediate treatment. It is the collective responsibility of all the stakeholders to ensure that no such future incidents take place.
The state should endeavor for robust medical infrastructure and should reprimand the hospitals denying admission to critical patients in the strictest way possible. The executive should delineate the contours of this aspect of medical negligence as early as possible, and the judiciary must intervene in instances where there is blatant negligence on the part of hospital administration.
There should be a balance struck between the problems of the citizens and that of the medical professionals, so that frivolous complaint is not lodged against doctors occluding them from performing their tasks strenuously.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arihant Samdaria is currently pursuing Law at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow.
You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by: Swathi Ashok Nair
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