The Supreme Court has recently held that a doctor or surgeon cannot assure that the outcome of any surgery would be beneficial. The decision was held in response to a case between Dr SK Jhunjhunwala vs Mrs Dhanwanti Kumar.
The appellant, Dr Jhunjhunwala, a doctor by profession had been practising medicine in Calcutta since 1969. In 1996, the complainant felt a pain in her abdomen and consulted the doctor who diagnosed stones in her gall bladder and then performed a laparoscopy and an open surgery to remove her gallbladder. Subsequently, the complainant filed a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, against the doctor claiming compensation for loss, mental suffering and pain suffered by her after the surgery. The complaint was that the doctor had been negligent because he performed general surgery on her gallbladder while she had only given consent to have the laparoscopy surgery. While the District Consumer Forum and the State Commission did not find merit in the complaint, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi reversed the findings and found the doctor guilty of medical negligence and awarded compensation of ₹200,000.
Following that, the supreme court was confronted with a question as to how and by which principle, the court decides on the issue of negligence of a doctor and hold him liable for medical negligence.
The court held that a professional might be held liable for negligence either if they do not possess the requisite skills that they claimed to have, or they don’t exercise the skill which they have. On the issue of consent, the court said that where an additional procedure, though unauthorized, is necessary to save the life or the health of a patient, it is unreasonable to delay such unauthorized procedure until the patient regains consciousness and makes a decision. The fact that a defendant charged with negligence acted in accordance with the general and approved practice is enough to clear him of the charge.
While referring to the judgements, the court said that the human body is like a highly complex machine and a doctor could not assure full recovery of a patient. The only assurance that such a professional can give or can be understood to have given by implication is that he is possessed of the requisite skill in that branch of the profession which they are practising and while undertaking the performance of the task entrusted to them, they would be exercising their skill with reasonable competence, court added.


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