Mr. X v. Hospital Z SC/0733/1998
Symbiosis Law School NOIDA
In The Supreme Court of India
Saghir Ahmed and B.N. Kirpal, JJ
KEY RESEARCH AREA
Duty of care. Right to privacy.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The appellant after obtaining the Degree of MBBS in 1987 from Jawaharlal institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, completed his internship and junior residence at the same college. In June, 1990 he joined the Nagaland State Medical and Health Service as Assistant Surgeon Grade-I. Thereafter, the appellant joined the MD Pharmacology Course though the continued in the Nagaland State Service on the condition that he would resume his duties after completing the MD Course. In September, 1991 the appellant joined the further Course of Diploma in Ophthalmology which he completed in April, 1993. In August, 1993 he resumed his duties in the Nagaland State Health Service as Assistant Surgeon Grade-I.
One Itokhu Yepthomi who was ailing from a disease which was provisionally diagnosed as Aortic Anuerism was advised to go to the Apollo Hospital at Madras and the appellant was directed by the Government of Nagaland to accompany the said patient to Madras for treatment. For the treatment of the above disease, Itokhu Yepthomi was posted for surgery on May 31, 1995 which, however, was cancelled due to shortage of blood. On June 1, 1995 the appellant and one Yehozhe who was the driver of Itokhu Yepthomi were asked to donate blood for the latter. Their blood samples were taken and the result showed that the appellant’s blood group was A(+ve). On the next date, namely, on June 2, 1995, Itokhu Yepthomi was operated for Aortic Anuerism and remained in the Hospital till 10th June, 1995 when he was discharged.
In August, 1995 the appellant proposed marriage to one Ms. Akali which was accepted and the marriage was proposed to be held on December 12, 1995. But the marriage was called off on the ground of blood test conducted at the respondent’s hospital in which the appellant was found to be HIV(+). The appellant went again to the respondents’ hospital at Madras where several tests were conducted and he was found to be HIV(+). Since the marriage had been settled but was subsequently called off, several people including members of the appellant’s family and persons belonging to his community became aware of the appellant’s HIV(+) status. This resulted in severe criticism of the appellant and he was ostracized by the community. The appellant left Kohima (Nagaland) around November 26, 1995 and started working and residing at Madras.
ISSUES OF THE CASE
- Whether the Respondents were guilty of violating the Appellant’s right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution of India?
- Whether the respondents were guilty of violating the duty to maintain secrecy under Medical Ethics?
- Whether the appellant was entitled to compensation from the respondents?
RULES (LAWS) INVOLVED IN THE CASE
- Section 20A of Indian Medical Council Act, 1956
- Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Act, 1964
- Article 21 of Constitution of India
- Sections 26, 269 and 270 of Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Section 13 (1) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
- Section 2 of Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939
- Section 32 of Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936
- Section 10 of Indian Divorce Act, 1869
- Section 27 of Special Marriage Act, 1954
THE DECISION OF THE COURT
The case presented is without any merits and is dismissed.
The Code of Medical Ethics also carves out an exception to the rule of confidentiality and permits the disclosure in the circumstances enumerated above under which public interest would override the duty of confidentiality, particularly where there is an immediate of future health risk to others.
The argument of the learned counsel for the appellant, therefore, that the respondents were under a duty to maintain confidentiality on account of the Code of Medical Ethics formulated by the Indian Medical Council cannot be accepted as the proposed marriage carried with it the health risk to an identifiable person who had to be protected from being infected with the communicable disease from which the appellant suffered. The right to confidentiality, if any, vested in the appellant was not enforceable in the present situation.
Having regard to the fact that the appellant was found to be HIV(+), its disclosure would not be violative of either the rule of confidentiality or the appellant’s Right of Privacy as Ms. Akali with whom the appellant was likely to be married was saved in time by such disclosure, or else, she too would have been infected with the dreadful disease if marriage had taken place and consummated.
Mental and physical health is of prime importance in a marriage, as one of the objects of the marriage is the procreation of equally health children. That is why, in every system of matrimonial law, it has been provided that if a person was found to be suffering from any, including venereal disease, in a communicable form, it will be open to the other partner in the marriage to seek divorce.
ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT
The judgment in my opinion is a sound judgment in regards to the disclosure of the fact that the appellant suffered from HIV AIDS since public interest acts as an override to the duty of confidentiality imposed on doctors, especially when there is an immediate future health risk to others.