In the world-wide media blitz following the criminal conviction of Dr. Conrad Murray (for causing death of the king of pop music, Michael Jackson) who is now sitting in the Los Angeles County jail waiting for his final sentencing that may extend up to 4 years of imprisonment, most people in India perhaps failed to appreciate that Dr. Murray, personal physician of Jackson, was primarily convicted for using an overdose of “propofol”, a strong analgesic and anesthetic, that eventually proved lethal for the singer. Can anyone in India imagine that a doctor can be jailed for using excessive dose of a drug? People in India perhaps also do not know that Dr. Murray not the first physician who was criminally convicted and sent to jail for causing death of a patient as a result of gross medical negligence. A Brooklyn doctor, Gerald Einaugler, was sentenced to jail for 1 year in late 1990s for fitting a wrong dialysis catheter causing death of an elderly patient. Although not very common, many doctors in USA and other developed countries have been sentenced to jail for reckless endangerment of patient’s life and willful violation of medical laws.
Similar laws against reckless medicos also exist in India – under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 304A, a doctor can be imprisoned up to 2 years for causing death of a patient as a result of gross medical negligence. Ironically, despite horrific stories of patients dying from medical calamities in Indian hospitals appearing in the news almost on a daily basis, not a single registered Allopathic physician has ever been convicted for “criminal negligence” and sent to jail in the entire medico-legal history of India. While two senior physicians (Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee and Dr. Baidyanath Halder) were convicted under IPC 304A and sentenced to 3 months of rigorous imprisonment by the trial court in Kolkata in 2002 for causing death of Anuradha Saha for the first time in Indian medicine, the two doctors did not spend a single night in jail as their criminal conviction was eventually overturned by the higher court. Are Indian medicos simply infallible or Is the Indian judiciary too feeble to take on the rich and highly influential members of the medical community? An Op-Ed on this topic written by PBT president, Dr. Kunal Saha, is published on Nov. 15, 2011 (see below).