Patient's consent must for all operations: SC
17 Jan 2008, 0003 hrs IST, Dhananjay Mahaptra, TNN
NEW DELHI: In a landmark ruling that would chasten private hospitals and nursing homes that are often accused of inflating bills, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that doctors cannot perform additional procedures during a scheduled operation without the patient's prior consent, except in cases where a life is in danger.
This means, doctors cannot cut up someone for a particular operation and then carry out an additional surgery even if they take the consent of the patient's relatives. Unless the patient's life is in danger right then, he should regain consciousness and then be informed of the problem. Any further medical action can be taken only with his consent.
What the court stressed on was "informed consent" — an essential pre-requisite for surgical interventions. An additional procedure could be carried out on a patient without his consent only if the latter's life depended on it, said a bench comprising Justices B.N.Agrawal, P.P.Naolekar and R.V.Raveendran in a 65-page judgment.
The court took into account the widespread public perception of private hospitals and nursing homes — that they have a tendency to inflate bills by carrying out several additional procedures during a scheduled operation by obtaining consent of the patient's relative while he is in the OT.
This ruling came in a case where the overies of Suchira Mehta (name changed) were removed during a diagnostic procedure at a private hospital by Dr Prabha Manchanda on the basis of consent taken from her relatives in 1995. She went away from the hospital without paying the bill and slapped a claim of Rs 25 lakh on the doctor for taking away her right to motherhood.
The court held that the removal of the ovaries were for the betterment of the patient but held it to be without consent, thus making the doctor liable for payment of damages. It said Mehta need not pay the fees and in addition asked the doctor to pay Rs 25,000 to her.
The bench laid down an elaborate guideline for doctors on "prior consent for additional procedures" saying in a poor country like India "there is a need to keep the cost of treatment within affordable limits". Justice Raveendran, while stressing that doctors still enjoyed a great deal of respect among people, said patients and doctors in a commercially run hospital are governed by an agreement under which the patient avails services for a consideration.