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Medical negligence: need for balanced approach

NR Madhava Menon

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2010.032


A well researched and authoritative judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on February 10, 2010 attempted to circumscribe the scope of criminal liability for negligence by doctors and hospitals. The law of professional negligence, especially in the case of doctors, has been formulated in such a way as to eliminate fear and anxiety about legal consequences while making professional judgments during diagnosis and treatment. The decision reiterated the principles laid down in an earlier judgment and restrained the tendency to criminally prosecute doctors for a simple lack of care or an error of judgment or an accident which, the Court declared, is not proof of negligence on the part of a medical professional. So long as a doctor follows a practice acceptable to the medical profession of that day, he or she cannot be held liable for negligence merely because a better alternative course or method of treatment was also available or simply because a more skilled doctor would not have chosen to follow or resort to that practice or procedure which the accused doctor followed. A highly skilled professional may be possessed of better qualities, but that cannot be made the basis or the yardstick for judging the performance of a professional proceeded against on indictment of negligence, said the Court.

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