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Govt Suggests ‘Decriminalizing Medical Negligence’ In New Criminal Law Bill

 

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced a significant amendment to the criminal law bill that will exempt doctors from criminal prosecution in cases of death due to medical negligence. This move comes in response to concerns raised by the medical community and aims to alleviate the burden of criminal liability on healthcare professionals.

Current Legal Framework

  • As per the existing legal framework, the death of patients under a doctor’s care is categorized as criminal negligence under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code.
  • This section stipulates that anyone causing the death of a person through a rash or negligent act may face imprisonment for up to two years, a fine, or both.
  • Union Home Minister Shah acknowledged the gravity of this situation, equating it to criminal negligence almost akin to murder.

Union Home Minister’s Announcement

  • In his address to the Lok Sabha on December 20, Union Home Minister Amit Shah expressed the need for an official amendment to relieve doctors from the burden of criminal negligence.
  • Shah emphasized the distinction between genuine criminal intent and instances where doctors, while providing professional services, unintentionally cause harm to patients.
  • The proposed amendment aims to protect doctors from unwarranted criminal prosecution, fostering a more supportive environment for medical practitioners.

Medical Community’s Response

  • The medical community has widely welcomed this move, viewing it as a positive step towards safeguarding the interests of healthcare professionals.
  • The Indian Medical Association (IMA) had previously advocated for such an amendment, citing the adverse impact of criminal prosecution on doctors’ well-being and the practice of defensive medicine.
  • The IMA stressed that doctors involved in cases of medical negligence usually lack criminal intent, a crucial element in defining an act as a crime.

Concerns Leading to the Amendment

  • In recent years, incidents of violence or threats against healthcare professionals have escalated in India.
  • According to data from Insecurity Insight, a global data bank, the country reported over 71 such incidents in 2016, with three healthcare workers losing their lives during the period.
  • The rise in violence against medical practitioners has been a cause for concern and has contributed to the atmosphere of fear and mistrust between doctors and patients.

Past Incidents and the Need for Reform

  • The need for legal reform in this regard is underscored by incidents like the mass resignation of doctors in West Bengal in 2019.
  • The resignation followed an attack on a junior doctor by a mob after a patient’s death, with the family alleging medical negligence.
  • Similar incidents occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, where healthcare workers faced violence from relatives of patients who blamed them for the deaths of their loved ones.

A Pivotal Move for Supportive Healthcare Environment

  • The proposed amendment to exempt doctors from criminal prosecution in cases of medical negligence is a significant step toward creating a more supportive and conducive environment for healthcare professionals.
  • It acknowledges the complexities of medical practice, distinguishing between genuine criminal intent and unintentional harm caused during the course of professional duty.

Summary

  • Union Home Minister Amit Shah proposes an amendment to decriminalize medical negligence.
  • The move aims to free doctors from criminal liability, differentiating it from intentional crimes.
  • The Indian Medical Association supports the amendment, citing the impact on doctors and defensive medicine.
  • Past incidents, such as the mass resignation of doctors in West Bengal in 2019, highlight the need for legal reform.
  • The proposed amendment seeks to create a more supportive environment for healthcare professionals.

 

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