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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Docs not liable for failed sterilisation operations: Supreme Court

Docs not liable for failed sterilisation operations: SC
S S Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, August 29
Holding that a doctor could not be held liable to pay damage for a failed sterilisation operation till any negligence on his part in performing the surgery is proved, the Supreme Court has directed the Union and State Governments to devise a welfare fund or insurance scheme to the persons in whose case operations had been unsuccessful.

“We are...clearly of the opinion that merely because a woman having undergone a sterilisation operation became pregnant and delivered a child, the operating surgeon or his employer cannot be held liable for compensation on account of unwanted pregnancy or unwanted child,” a Bench of Chief Justice R C Lahoti, Mr Justice C K Thakker and Mr Justice P K Balasubramanyan ruled.

The decision came on an appeal by the Punjab Government against awarding of Rs 50,000 compensation by courts below to a woman from Bathinda, who had conceived a child even after she under went a sterilisation operation in August 1984. A woman doctor of a local government hospital had performed the operation.

The woman had claimed a compensation of Rs 3 lakh from Punjab Government’s Health Department in a suit before a civil court for the failure of her operation. But the court directed the state to pay Rs 50,000 to her. The District Judge and the Punjab and Haryana High Court upheld the order of the civil court.

The Medical Officer of Civil Hospital, Bathinda, in his statement had told the civil judge that the “medical science recognises failure of sterilisation operations to the extent of 0.3 to 3 per cent.”

Taking note of it, the Supreme Court said the surgeon could be held liable in contract unless the plaintiff (affected woman) proved that she had been assured 100 per cent exclusion of pregnancy after the surgery and was only on the basis of such assurance that she was persuaded to undergo the operation.

To overcome this problem and without causing any harm to the family planning programme, The government should provide some solace to the person in whose case the operation was unsuccessful on account of “their illiteracy, ignorance or carelessness, the court said

The best course for the government would be to take steps to devise an insurance schemes to the women on whom the operations had been a failure as the rate of such failure was not alarmingly high but negligible considering the vastness of the family welfare programme being undertaken in the country, the court said.

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