HC Upholds Medical Council Order Barring Doctor from Practice for Two years
Chennai: Upholding the order of the Tamil Nadu Medical Council in removing the name of a doctor from the Medical Registrar for two years, the High Court recently confirmed the punishment and held that the act of the doctor in issuing false medical certificate to a patient for transferring his properties was no less than an interesting plot of a criminal thriller. Dismissing...
Chennai: Upholding the order of the Tamil Nadu Medical Council in removing the name of a doctor from the Medical Registrar for two years, the High Court recently confirmed the punishment and held that the act of the doctor in issuing false medical certificate to a patient for transferring his properties was no less than an interesting plot of a criminal thriller.
Dismissing the complaint, the court opined that the punishment given by the Medical Council to the doctor was just and observed, "Such punishment imposed on the petitioner, in the view of this Court, does not call for any interference."
The case concerned a Coimbatore based surgeon who was accused of issuing fake medical certificate back in 2015. It was alleged that using the fake certificate a relative of the patient had registered a settlement deed worth around Rs 50 crore by which valuable properties were transferred to the relative's name.
Following this, the daughter of the patient approached the Tamil Nadu Medical Council back in 2018 and after receiving the complaint, the Council had constituted a disciplinary committee to conduct an inquiry against the petitioner doctor and others.
Medical Dialogues had earlier reported about this case. Tamil Nadu Medical Council had found out upon inquiry that the doctor had mentioned in the certificate that the patient was although ill, was conscious. This helped the relative of the patient to register a property worth Rs 50 crore in his name.
When the matter came to be considered before the Council, the doctor in his defense had said that the medical certificate was issued with a bonafide intention by adhering to the norms. He had also referred to the delay of the complainant in filing the complaint.
Later, the doctor had also submitted a letter issued by a hospital where the deceased patient had been treated, stating that the deceased was conscious and oriented on 08.10.2015 i.e. the date on which the certificate was issued by the petitioner doctor.
Finally, finding the Coimbatore based doctor guilty the Council on May 4, 2021 had suspended the doctor from the medical register for two years.
In fact, the TNMC had directed the Karnataka Medical Council to suspend two other doctors associated with the city hospital for "short of the standard of care, integrity and conduct". The state medical council had suggested removing the name of the former medical superintendent for one year and the treating physician's name for six months.
Challenging the suspension order dated 04.05.2021, the petitioner doctor approached the High Court. The counsel for the doctor referred to the undue delay in filing the complaint by the daughter of the deceased patient and also relied upon Regulation 8.4 of the 2003 Regulations, which clearly mentions that complaint relating to medical negligence has to be preferred within six months.
He further argued that the Medical Council merely placed reliance on uncorroborated or unsubstantiated allegations of the complainant which would tend to have an adverse effect on the parallel criminal proceedings initiated against the petitioner doctor.
Further referring to the medical certificate issued by the doctor, the counsel contended that the certificate was intended to determine the physical condition of the patient to undertake a travel. Such certificate was issued after ascertaining the physical fitness of the patient. Even in such certificate, the consciousness of the patient was recorded by the petitioner which would stand testimony to the bonafides of the petitioner in issuing the certificate.
The counsel for the doctor argued that the Medical Council, on the other hand, had recorded a finding as though the certificate had been issued with the sole purpose of registering the properties of the patient clandestinely when the patient was on his deathbed. As per the doctor's counsel, Tamil Nadu Medical Council failed to note that such certificate was issued to the attendant of the patient and therefore, the certificate had been issued by the doctor strictly in accordance with medical norms.
He further submitted before the court that the doctor had no idea that the son-in-law was going to utilise such certificate for transferring the properties standing in the name of the patient, and sought for the quashing of the council's order.
On the other hand, the counsel appearing for the Medical Council argued that the inquiry revealed that the petitioner doctor had issued the certificate to the patient without the knowledge of his doctors who were treating him in the Chennai hospital. In fact, as per the inquiry report, the petitioner doctor is from Coimbatore and never treated the patient who was being treated in Chennai. Therefore, the doctor had no locus standi for issuing such a certificate, which was contrary to the health conditions of the patient and also contravened Regulations 7.7 of Tamil Nadu Medical Council Code of Medical Ethics (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2003.
Meanwhile, the counsel for the daughter of the deceased patient submitted that the medical certificate was bereft of mandatory particulars required to be indicated by a Medical Practitioner while certifying the fitness of a patient. Thus, the certificate was deliberately issued by the petitioner doctor to facilitate the son-in-law of the doctor, who is also the brother of the complainant, to alienate the properties with an element of criminal intention.
The certificate was false as the patient was being treated in Chennai from 27.09.2015 till his death on 11.10.2015. However, as per the certificate the doctor was attending on the patient at his residence, which is contrary to the medical records maintained by the hospital.
After listening to all the arguments, the High Court bench referred to the contention that the complaint had been made after three years of the incident, the HC noted, "The above narrated line of events would go to show that it is not as if the third respondent had been sleeping over her rights. Right from the time of the death of her father, the third respondent had made several efforts legally and the fact that the registration was done by the Sub-Registrar only on the strength of the certificate issued by the petitioner dated 08.10.2015, came to light only as late as on 15.02.2017. Allowance may also be given to the exploration of legal remedies in such a situation and as such, the complaint being made in 2018 against the petitioner to the Medical Council cannot be found fault with."
"In any case, where the facts are such as to evoke a sense of shock at the manner in which the petitioner and his son-inlaw have acted, and which smacks of a calculated attempt to defraud the third respondent's father, this Court does not find it appropriate to allow the technical plea of delay to thwart an enquiry/disciplinary proceeding against the petitioner. Therefore, this ground of attack fails as the same cannot be countenanced," further noted the bench.
Regarding the certificate the court observed that the doctor had issued the certificate on 08.10.2015 without even treating the patient and the certificate had mentioned that the patient was conscious and oriented whereas the medical records contradicted such claims.
At this outset, the bench also noted, "Further, the certificate dated 08.10.2015 indicates that the petitioner treated the patient at his residence on 08.10.2015. This is yet another impropriety as the medical records make it clear that from the date of admission of patient on 27.09.2015 till his death on 11.10.2015, he continued to remain in the hospital in I.C.U and he was not discharged on 08.10.2015 or on any other date. Therefore, when the patient was taking treatment in ICU on 08.10.2015, the certificate dated 08.10.2015 issued by the petitioner that he treated the patient at his residence cannot be accepted and it amounts to a blatant falsity."
"Further, in the certificate dated 08.10.2015, there is no reference about the identity mark of the patient, the signature of the patient, the signature, seal and address of the medical practitioner who issued it. Therefore, the respondents concluded that such certificate dated 08.10.2015 is contrary to Regulations 1.3.3 of Tamil Nadu Medical Council Code of Medical Ethics (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2003," mentioned the order.
Holding the doctor guilty, the court clarified,
"it is important to note that certain glaring aspects like the fact that the settlement deed was executed in favour of the petitioner's own son-in-law, the fact that the petitioner had issued the certificate without the knowledge of the other doctors who were treating the deceased, and that the certificate is issued as if the deceased was at his residence when in fact he was in the ICU of the hospital, all point a clear case of abuse and misuse of authority by the petitioner as a medical professional and issuance of such certificate is based on clear falsehood. The petitioner's conduct falls short of the minimum degree of professional ethics as expected from a medical professional."
In this context the court also referred to the order in the case of Dr P. Basumani v. Tamil Nadu Medical Council, reported in (2021), the court noted,
"In the very same breath, this Court is firm that where the circumstances so warrant, erring medical professionals such as the petitioner, must be dealt with in a manner known to law and no misplaced lenience can be shown to such professionals. This would point out that every individual case has to be decided on its own merits and the court has to discern the facts carefully, which would alter the decision of the court accordingly."
"Where the facts are not only glaring but also blatantly shocking, the court cannot turn on Nelson's eye to the same and the consequences that such an act of criminal nature has entailed. It may even be said that the entire facts can be likened to an interesting plot of a criminal thriller and it will be rather too naïve of this Court to believe the version that the certificate was issued by the petitioner only as a travel advisory to his own son-in-law without any rhyme or reason. The line of events and the date on which the settlement deed had been executed can only be said to be too much of a coincidence to be believed to be without any criminal intent. Rather if all the facts are placed together, they simply fall in place like the pieces of the neat jigsaw puzzle. Justice is not blind; her blindfolds only represent her impartiality. It is the duty of this Court to make sure that the scales are always balanced and while every individual is entitled to equality before the law, the concept of equality can be applied only among equals. The very same concept of equality also demands that unequals be treated differently. In the present circumstances this Court finds that the act committed by the petitioner is fundamentally different and hence the punishment imposed on the petitioner cannot be found fault with," read the order.
To read the case order, click on the link below.
Barsha completed her MA from the University of Burdwan, West Bengal in 2018. Having a knack for Journalism she joined Medical Dialogues back in 2020. She mainly covers news about medico legal cases, NMC/DCI updates, medical education issues including the latest updates about medical and dental colleges in India. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.