“Recently, an MCI notice is doing rounds in the social media based on a Supreme Court order that apparently states that action will be taken on every doctor involved in strikes.”

So we decided to do bring out the facts about the order and the notice. And present it here so that you can decide what really is the order or notice is all about.

It all started with a writ petition filed by People for Better Treatment(read petitioner). The petition was considered by Honourable Supreme Court and passed an order in November last year. 

The observations and the order passed by the Supreme Court

  1. The present writ petition raises concern over the issue of Doctors going on a strike.
  2. The petition is a public interest litigation filed pursuant to a series of strikes called by Doctors on numerous occasions, which brought enormous pain and suffering to certain patients, and was even responsible for the death of a few unfortunate patients nationwide, as enumerated in the various annexure filed by the Petitioner.
  3. The Petitioner claims that stringent action must be taken against the doctors on a strike as stipulated in the Medical Council of India “Code of Ethics and Regulations”, and as per the Hippocrates Oath, which is taken by every medical practitioner. The Petitioner also stated that any professional who is involved in public service must not cause inconveniences to people by striking work.
  4. The said issue was highlighted before this Court previously in W.P. (Civil) No.316/2006, wherein a total ban on “doctor’s strike” and exemplary disciplinary action against the said doctors at AIIMS hospital who went on a strike was prayed for by the Petitioner therein. This Court disposed of the said petition by categorically stating that the doctor’s involvement in a strike is a matter of great public importance and such an act may amount to negligence warranting action for misconduct, vide an order dated 05.05.2012. However, this Court had directed the Petitioner to move a representation against `doctor’s strike’ to the Ministry of Health.
  5. The relief sought in this writ petition is commendable but difficult to either grant or if it is granted to enforce. Reliance must be placed upon the Constitution Bench decision in Common Cause, A Registered Society v. Union of India & Others (2006) 9 SCC 295, wherein this Court suggested that the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils are the relevant authorities which must take disciplinary action against Bar associations on a strike and sponsors of such boycotts. On a perusal of the aforesaid, we are of the considered opinion that the same analogy would be equally applicable in case of the doctors on strike and that the appropriate authority i.e. the Medical Council of India and other State Medical Councils must be approached to take suitable action against such striking doctors.
  6. “Therefore, we would only express our desire that the Doctors, who carry out a noble service as God’s agent by saving lives of people, should not resort to strikes with any intermittent cause but undertake their responsibility with efficiency and utmost sincerity at all times.”
  7. With this observation the writ petition is disposed of.

The above order confirms that the Supreme Court refused to pass any order and just passed the onus to the governing council for doctors that is Medical Council of India.

The full order of the Supreme Court W.P no. 253 of 2012 is available here.

MCI takes cognisance of this order and calls for an ethics committee meeting and the details of that meeting is available in the notice sent by MCI to all the state medical councils.

Let’s dig what is there in MCI notice

MCI notice

“The ethics committee discussed the matter in detail and is of the view that every doctor registered in the State Medical Council/ Medical Council of India are required to abide by the code of medical ethics.”

What the code of medical ethics by MCI says…

In the paragraph 2.1 titled “Obligations to the Sick” the code has the following points

2.1.1. which says,

“A physician advising a patient to seek service of another physician is acceptable, however, in case of emergency a physician must treat the patient. No physician shall arbitrarily refuse treatment to a patient. However for good reason, when a patient is suffering from an ailment which is not within the range of experience of the treating physician, the physician may refuse treatment and refer the patient to another physician.”

2.4 which says,

“The Patient must not be neglected: A physician is free to choose whom he will serve. He should, however, respond to any request for his assistance in an emergency.“

You can access the complete document of the MCI code of ethics here.

In the notice the MCI adds,

“… a copy of the order of Honourable Supreme Court of India be forwarded to all the State Medical Councils with the request to take the cognisance into the matter related to strike by doctor, in case any such incident is brought to their notice and take necessary action against the doctor concerned in accordance with the order of Honourable Supreme Court”

Finally MCI asks State Medical Council to take action based on Supreme Court orders that never bans the strike by doctors but only desires that doctors shouldn’t resort to such things.

“Therefore, we would only express our desire that the Doctors, who carry out a noble service as God’s agent by saving lives of people, should not resort to strikes with any intermittent cause but undertake their responsibility with efficiency and utmost sincerity at all times.”

Well the facts are laid out and we would be more than eager to know whether there are any discrepancies and update them in the meantime. Lastly, the initial question will always remain a question. Don’t you think our laws have more such questions than precise answers.

Update : TOI reports “MCI bans strikes by doctors”

But a comment published along with the article throws a different light on the issue.

Comment by Prof. M C Gupta

“This news item is an outstanding example of uninformed journalism on the one hand and blatant motivated misinformation on the other. The facts are as follows:

i)—There is no landmark Supreme Court judgment as referred. A PIL was filed in the SC requesting that strikes by doctors may be banned. The Court said the matter has to be left to the discretion of the concerned professional council and gave the parallel example of the Bar Council of India in case of strike by lawyers.

ii)—The MCI, ever ready to fire from another’s shoulder to keep the doctors subdued, quickly issued a circular to State Medical Councils that “as per the SC judgment”, action may be taken against the striking doctors under the Code of Medical Ethics.

iii)—The fact is that the State Medical Councils are independent bodies and the Code of Ethics Regulations, 2002, are totally silent about a strike. There is nothing in the Regulations against a strike by doctors, which is the fundamental right of all citizens. Even IAS officers, and MLAs, including the Chief Minister, are on record for going on strike / dharna.”

SUMMARY—There is no SC judgment banning strikes by doctors. There is no MCI order that doctors cannot go on strikes. The MCI circular is a disingenuous device by the MCI to frighten the doctors against exercising their fundamental rights. It is shameful on the part of the MCI to do so and, unnecessarily, to drag the name of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the process.

Prof. M C Gupta MD, LLM
Member, SC Bar Association

 

Deepu Sebin

CEO, Co-founder of DailyRounds - largest academic network for Doctors ! Internal Medicine MD. Contact dr.deepu@dailyrounds.org.

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