SC: Medical Profession owe a Constitutional Duty to Treat the Have-nots

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July 11, 2018

Case name: Union of India v. Mool Chand Khairati Ram Trust

Date of Judgment: July 09, 2018

In this noteworthy case, the Supreme Court Bench has made some key observations highlighting the medical profession and its obligation to treat the have-nots in the society. The Court has stated that land provided to hospitals in concessional rate have to provide free treatment.

The Government of India in the year 1949 took a decision to provide all possible help to the hospitals by allotting land to the hospitals and schools at highly concessional rates so as to involve them in achieving the larger social objective of providing health and education to the people.

In pursuance thereof, Circular was issued by the Government of NCT of Delhi on 2.2.2012 whereby it intimated the hospitals to implement the judgment of Delhi High Court in the case of Social Jurists v. Government of NCT of Delhi & Ors., with regard to free treatment to the weaker sections of the society.

The said Circular was applicable to the respondent Hospital i.e. the impugned order with respect to the policy of free patient treatment to indigent/poor persons of Delhi to be followed by the private hospitals allotted land by Land & Development Office on concessional rates.

Later a High Level 10­Member Committee for hospitals in Delhi was constituted, headed by Mr. Justice A.S. Qureshi to review the existing free treatment facilities extended by the charitable and other hospitals who had been allotted land on concessional rates pre­determined by the Government.

With respect to Moolchand Kharaiti Ram Hospital i.e. Respondent, the Committee observed that initially the Trust was truly charitable. However, later the Hospital violated the terms and conditions regarding free treatment to the poor, openly both in letter and spirit.

In view of the aforesaid state of affairs, the Supreme Court held that the management of respondent hospital does not consider it to be a charitable hospital at all. The land would not have been allotted to Trust if it was not charitable.

That the hospitals in question and other similarly situated hospitals, shall scrupulously observe the conditions framed in the order dated 2.2.2012 and in case any violation is reported, the same shall be viewed sternly and the lease shall be cancelled. Thus, the Apex Court held that the violation of the policy could not be permitted to prevail.

Other notable observations made by the Supreme Court Bench in the case are as under:

That medical profession deals with the life of human beings. There has to be a balancing of human rights with the commercial gains

In the wake of globalisation, we are in a regime of Intellectual Property Rights. Even these rights have to give way to the human rights. It is an obligation of the Government to provide life­saving drugs to have­nots at affordable prices so as to save their lives, which is part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It is equally an obligation of the State to devise such measures that have­nots are not deprived of the very treatment itself. Administering medicines is also a part of medical therapy.

Thus, in our considered opinion members of the medical profession owe a constitutional duty to treat the have- nots. They cannot refuse to treat a person who is in dire need of treatment by a particular medicine or by a particular expert merely on the ground that he is not in a position to afford the fee payable for such an opinion/treatment.

Thus, in our opinion, when the Government land had been obtained for charitable purpose of running the hospital, the Government is within its right to impose such an obligation.

The entire case can be accessed here.