Medical NegligenceMedical

Medical Professionals under Indian Criminal Law


The criminal LAW has invariably placed the medical professionals on a pedestal different from ordinary mortals

Medical Professionals Under Criminal Law

35. The criminal LAW has invariably placed the medical professionals on a pedestal different from ordinary mortals. The INDIAN Penal Code enacted as far back as in the year 1860 sets out a few vocal examples. Section 88 in the Chapter on General Exceptions provides exemption for acts not intended to cause death, done by consent in good faith for person’s benefit. Section 92 provides for exemption for acts done in good faith for the benefit of a person without his consent though the acts cause harm to a person and that person has not consented to suffer such harm. There are four exceptions listed in the Section which is not necessary in this context to deal with. Section 93 saves from criminality certain communications made in good faith.

To these provisions are appended the following illustrations:- Section 88

A, a surgeon, knowing that a particular operation is likely to cause the death of Z, who suffers under a painful complaint, but not intending to cause Z’s death and intending in good faith, Z’s benefit, performs that operation on Z, with Z’s consent. A has committed no offence. Section 92

Z is thrown from his horse, and is insensible. A, a surgeon, finds that Z requires to be trepanned. A, not intending Z’s death, but in good faith, for Z’s benefit, performs the trepan before Z recovers his power of judging for himself. A has committed no offence.

A, a surgeon, sees a child suffer an accident which is likely to prove fatal unless an operation be immediately performed. There is no time to apply to the child’s guardian. A performs the operation in spite of the entreaties of the child, intending, in good faith, the child’s benefit. A has committed no offence. Section 93

A, a surgeon, in good faith, communicates to a patient his opinion that he cannot live. The patient dies in consequence of the shock. A has committed no offence, though he knew it to be likely that the communication might cause the patient’s death.

36. It is interesting to note what Lord Macaulay had himself to say about INDIAN Penal Code. We are inclined to quote a few excerpts from his speech to the extent relevant for our purpose from “Speeches and Poems with the Report and Notes on the INDIAN Penal Code” by Lord Macaulay (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, published in 1874).

“Under the provisions of our Code, this case would be very differently dealt with according to circumstances. If A kills Z by administering abortives to her, with the knowledge that those abortives are likely to cause her death, he is guilty of voluntary culpable homicide, which will be voluntary culpable homicide by consent, if Z agreed to run the risk, and murder if Z did not so agree. If A causes miscarriage to Z, not intending to cause Z’s death, nor thinking it likely that he shall cause Z’s death, but so rashly or negligently as to cause her death, A is guilty of culpable homicide not voluntary, and will be liable to the punishment provided for the causing of miscarriage, increased by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Lastly, if A took such precautions that there was no reasonable probability that Z’s death would be caused, and if the medicine were rendered deadly by some accident which no human sagacity could have foreseen, or by some peculiarity in Z’s constitution such as there was no ground whatever to expect, A will be liable to no punishment whatever on account of her death, but will of course be liable to the punishment provided for causing miscarriage.

It may be proper for us to offer some arguments in defence of this part of the Code.

It will be admitted that when an act is in itself innocent, to punish the person who does it because bad consequences, which no human wisdom could have foreseen, have followed from it, would be in the highest degree barbarous and absurd.” (P.419)

“To punish as a murderer every man who, while committing a heinous offence, causes death by pure misadventure, is a course which evidently adds nothing to the security of human life. No man can so conduct himself as to make it absolutely certain that he shall not be so unfortunate as to cause the death of a fellow-creature. The utmost that he can do is to abstain from every thing which is at all likely to cause death. No fear of punishment can make him do more than this; and therefore, to punish a man who has done this can add nothing to the security of human life. The only good effect which such punishment can produce will be to deter people from committing any of those offences which turn into murders what are in themselves mere accidents. It is in fact an addition to the punishment of those offences, and it is an addition made in the very worst way.” (p.421)

“When a person engaged in the commission of an offence causes death by rashness or negligence, but without either intending to cause death, or thinking it likely that he shall cause death, we propose that he shall be liable to the punishment of the offence which he was engaged in committing, superadded to the ordinary punishment of involuntary culpable homicide.

The arguments and illustrations which we have employed for the purpose of showing that the involuntary causing of death, without either rashness or negligence, ought, under no circumstances, to be punished at all, will, with some modifications, which will readily suggest themselves, serve to show that the involuntary causing of death by rashness or negligence, though always punishable, ought, under no circumstances to be punished as murder.” (P.422)

37. The following statement of Law on criminal negligence by reference to surgeons, doctors etc. and unskilful treatment contained in Roscoe’s LAW of Evidence (Fifteenth Edition) is classic :

“Where a person, acting as a medical man, andc., whether licensed or unlicensed, is so negligent in his treatment of a patient that death results, it is manslaughter if the negligence was so great as to amount to a crime, and whether or not there was such a degree of negligence is a question in each case for the jury.” “In explaining to juries the test which they should apply to determine whether the negligence in the particular case amounted or did not amount to a crime, judges have used many epithets, such as ‘culpable,’ ‘criminal’, ‘gross’, ‘wicked’, ‘clear’, ‘complete.’ But whatever epithet be used and whether an epithet be used or not, in order to establish criminal liability the facts must be such that, in the opinion of the jury, the negligence of the accused went beyond a mere matter of compensation between subjects and showed such disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime against the State and conduct deserving punishment.” (p. 848-849)


“whether he be licensed or unlicensed, if he display gross ignorance, or gross inattention, or gross rashness, in his treatment, he is criminally responsible. Where a person who, though not educated as an accoucheur, had been in the habit of acting as a man-midwife, and had unskilfully treated a woman who died in childbirth, was indicted for the murder, L. Ellenborough said that there was no evidence of murder, but the jury might convict of man-slaughter.” “To substantiate that charge the prisoner must have been guilty of criminal misconduct, arising either from the grossest ignorance or the most? criminal inattention. One or other of these is necessary to make him guilty of that criminal negligence and misconduct which is essential to make out a case of manslaughter.” (p.849)

[Jacob Mathew Versus State of Punjab and another AIR 2005 SC 3180 ]


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