Operated on Without Permission - No remedy in India?
Linda Louis 26 Aug 2017

Operated on Without Permission - No remedy in India?

In a shocking case that has regretfully seemed to have skipped the attention of most of the media, a general surgeon in a government hospital in Malavalli District was found to have conducted nearly 2500 unwanted and unnecessary hysterectomies - a surgery for the removal of uterus from women,  rendering them incapable of having children. The despicable issue came to light in 2015 after several complaints were made and the issue highlighted in media, and a Judge visited the hospital where the surgeon, Dr. Basavaraj had worked.

Tragically, this issue has not gone through the Courts. After the complaints were highlighted, the Department of Health and Family Welfare had requested only the Upalokayukta to look into the issue. Thankfully, the Upalokayukta in this case did its job,and uncovered that Dr Basavaraj had not taken precautions such as scanning, biopsy and other tests which were necessary before going for a surgery. Moreover, despite relevant guidelines making it clear that if a gynecologist was available, only they were authorized to carry out such surgeries, the surgeon had performed these operations on women who had little idea of what they were consenting to or what the consequences were. Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali, a non-government organisation, scrutinised the medical records of hundreds of women who had undergone hysterectomy and found that it was performed without adequate clinical evidence about its necessity. Testimony from other medical professionals as well as colleagues of the errant surgeon also revealed that at the time these surgeries were purportedly done, gynecologists with the required qualifications were available for referral. 

It was clearly concluded therefore, that Dr Basavaraj, with an oblique motive to have wrongful gain from the innocent and illiterate patients conducted 2,478 hysterectomy operations, and the Upalayokta has now ordered the government to compensate the victims.

However, this is clearly not enough. A male doctor in authority had taken advantage of 2500 women, preyed upon their ignorance, and removed a vital organ from their bodies without their permission and consent. This is nothing less than mutilation of the human body, and bodily autonomy is an integral part of the right to life. By conducting these operations, the surgeon has not only destroyed the faith of the marginalised and poorer classes in the public healthcare system, he has irredeemably damaged the health and happiness of these women who have now been deprived of the opportunity to have a child - a realisation that has caused them much mental misery and anguish.

It is not acceptable that the only available remedy has been an enquiry by the Upalayokta and the grant of compensation (to be awarded by the government). The surgeon should be prosecuted for nothing less than criminal assault and mutilation, and his medical malpractice must be highlighted and punished. While encouraging useless litigation against doctors is very counterproductive to the delivery of health and medicine, in such cases it is clearly of great importance that these criminals be prosecuted and held up as an example. The punishment is bound to be more effective if it monetarily imposed, and medical practitioners should be mandated to take out a malpractice insurance that can be used if they are convicted or held guilty of such. Is it time to review legal codes for medical professionals in India?

Do we need stronger and more punitive laws to send out a stronger message?

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