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Millennium Post

Medical liability and negligence

The Supreme Court’s decision to grant Rs 5.96 crore in compensation to the US-based doctor Kunal Saha, whose wife lost her life because of medical negligence in a Kolkata hospital in 1998, is a welcome verdict. Indeed the apex court, by awarding the biggest-ever compensation to the injured party in a case of medical negligence, has upped the standard of medical conduct and has raised the bar as far as ethical practice, responsibility and liability in case of medical mishap are concerned.

The case of Kunal Saha, is, in fact, hardly unique, since patients in India lose their lives to medical negligence on a daily basis. A glaring example is the unfathomably high mortality rate of infants in Kolkata hospitals, an avoidable and extremely unacceptable phenomenon that needs thorough investigation to expose the guilty parties. Saha, who’s an Ohio-based doctor, had admitted his wife Anuradha for high fever and respiratory infection, a routine physiological problem that is easily cured, at a famous Kolkata hospital. Anuradha, a child psychologist and gradiate of Columbia University in New York, however, contracted toxic epidermal necrolysis while she was undergoing treatment at the said hospital, that resulted in her death shortly after she was moved into a Mumbai hospital. Saha’s contention that Anuradha was misdiagnosed and given a fatal overdose of steroids was proved right, and although the Rs 200-crore compensation that he had demanded wasn’t met, the Rs 5.96-crore, the highest in Indian history and awarded 15 years after the tragedy happened, is, nevertheless, meant to drive home the point that medical negligence is an unpardonable offence.

The victory belongs not just to Kunal Saha, who since then has become a crusader against medical negligence in India, but also the ordinary people, who now have the Supreme Court judgement to fall back on and demand reparation charges in case of medical misconduct. A parallel can be dawn with the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland, who had lost her life thanks to the Catholic countries rigid abortion laws, which have since then been amended. The government and the civil society organisations need to work on spreading public awareness on this malignant development, even though private clinics and hospitals are mushrooming in the country, medical conduct and standards remain far from satisfactory.
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