Can a child’s life be compensated?

Cases in the grey area between negligence and manslaughter need more attention

 

On a day when one reads about the humanity of the late Justice Krishna Iyer and then reads about man’s inhumanity to man, it upsets the mind. In the case we read, the victim was just a child; the pain compounded.

 

Harjol Ahuluwalia, a kid, had taken ill. He did not respond to the local doctor’s medicine while being treated in a Noida nursing home. The parents were advised to shift the child to a hospital. They did.

 

Harjol was suffering from typhoid; that is what the doctor said. Blood tests, cultured, can determine typhoid. The details are not reported but one has to take the doctor’s word as gospel. Harjol was duly admitted as an inpatient; an obvious sign of a serious condition.

 

Readers will recall how mix-ups occur in a hospital. In Harjol’s case, as presented to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at Delhi, the child was advised certain medication. The nurse attending on the child gave a slip of paper to the boy’s parents and asked them to get the prescribed medicine. The name given for the drug was Lariago.

 

At this point, the case gets murkier. Lariago is an anti-malarial compound. Quinine-based, its generic formula is chloroquin or quinine hydrochloride. Quinine is the most effective medicine against malaria, especially the parasite plasmodium vivax. It is a mild drug, taken in pill form over days. In fact, it is used by some, in minute doses, as a prophylactic.

 

Nowhere is it prescribed as an anti-typhoid formulation.

 

In severe malaria cases, medication is injected for greater relief. It is, of course, to be administered with care and under constant supervision. Harjol was given a shot.

 

The boy immediately collapsed… in his mother’s arms. All hell broke loose. Experts were called in, including the paediatrician. Oxygen was supplied through a manual respirator. No improvement. The platelet count in the blood started to fall. More panic.

 

The hospital authorities gave up and suggested an immediate transfer to the intensive-care unit of a major hospital, automatic ventilators being available there. The child was shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

 

A few days later, with no improvement in sight, other than the physical condition being stable, the boy was discharged. Unfortunately, he was in a vegetative state and the doctors at AIIMS said he would remain so permanently. The only son of his grieving parents, Harjol was condemned for life; his brain damaged.

 

The previous hospital offered to treat Harjol, but everyone must have realised that it was a lost battle. The attending nurse, who administered the injection, was not even qualified. The parents sued.

 

Now you be the judge.

 

All sympathy would be for the boy, naturally. But people do not give up so easily. The parents asked for Rs28 lakh, just to see the child through his life. The hospital baulked.

 

The insurance company said that it would not pay and, even if they had to, the maximum amount could be Rs12.5 lakh, the amount that the hospital was insured for.

 

Next was the excuse that the child was not a consumer; that the treatment was free.

 

Excuses galore. Finger pointing at its worst.

 

Litigation cannot end on a happy note. Why just medical negligence? This was equivalent to manslaughter. Homicide. Can monetary compensation ever come near the grief of the parents and the torture inflicted on the boy for life?

 

The Commission upheld the payment of Rs12.5 lakh as cover and another Rs5 lakh as additional relief. The question that begs an answer is: Was it worth fighting the poor folk for years, knowing fully well that they were bound to be compensated?

 

Surprisingly, no one ever asked why Lariago was administered in the first place.

 

Chloramphenicol was a drug of choice against typhus at one time! Now it is antibiotics.

 

Doctors are known for bad handwriting. Was this one such case?

 

(Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected])

Comments
Bapoo Malcolm
8 years ago
M. Bhavesh,
You say you are a doctor. Of what, arts, literature, medicine, engineering, philosophy? Precision may be necessary.
You hit the nail on the head with your first comment. That there is a lot of malpractice. Then you again become antagonistic without verifying the facts. It happens. Many people, especially professionals, think they are the only literate folk. We plebeians receive flak.
Would a Jr. BSc, with Physics (Inter Science with Mathematics), a BA (Hons.) with Economics, Politics and specialization in English, Diplomas in Advertising, Public Relations, Journalism (with a gold medal in Journalism), followed by an LLB, do for you? Or should Radio and TV journalism be added for further satisfaction? Tutoring students for their Masters; could that be included? Should one add teaching law to II year Junior college students? Or writing on subjects as varied as Sports, Humour (the most difficult), predicting the Oil Crisis in !970, two years before the ‘Oil shokku’, comfort you? Maybe we can also add the failure of Sanjay Gandhi’s Maruti (not the face-saving Suzuki) being foretold in 1971. There may be more because this is the first time in 50 years that I have been put through this unedifying exercise.
Yes, a certificate course in Instrumentation too. And a patent in pipeline valves. Design of the world’s largest valve gearboxes (>1,700 kilograms). A mechanical eliminator of mosquitos (have had 10 attacks of malaria, including falciparum). To name a few from an “uneducated” journalist!
Since you do not know the details of the case, by your own admission, you may not be the best to comment on it. Maybe even unwise.
One more. An accredited National Commissar (official) by the UCI (Union Cyclists’ International), with the highest marks obtained worldwide at least until 1981. Maybe be my cursory knowledge of French helped. But then, it is one of six languages that I was forced to study. Can’t be perfect, can I?
The case did not involve a tragic death. Worse, vegetative state for life. Error proved. Fines, by way of insurance paid. QED. That is Latin for ‘Quad erat demonstrandum’.
‘Equivalent to manslaughter’ means almost. Valent is from valency and means of similar strength, not equal. Manslaughter is death, but without mens rea, which in Latin means guilty, or bad, mind. In other words a mistake or unintentional negligence. Otherwise it would be murder.
Isn’t the appointment of an untrained nurse a factor of guilt? You say that “all” medications have some serious side effects. Do the drug manufacturers agree with you? If so, all medicines must be banned forthwith.
Yes, I do know the difference between Typhoid and typhus. Was referring to the so-called wide spectrum antibiotics and their equally wide spread use.
There is another article where I have praised doctors for avoiding unnecessary tests. Lately newspapers have carried articles on contrary and money saving second opinions. My own advocate was victim of an unnecessary procedure; proved by his family doctor, but too late.
Thanks again for opening my eyes. Please keep reading and commenting. At least, I like dissent. It exerts everyone’s mind. Whether Doctor or uneducated journalist!
Bhavesh
8 years ago
Being a doctor i know that there are many cases of malpractice that go unpunished everyday. But then there is a bigger problem of barely educated people, who nowadays go by the name of journalist, writing their expert commentary on subjects that they don't have any idea about and start using words like manslaughter. Now i don't know the details of this case and it may or may not have involved a human error resulting in the tragic death of this child. Anti malarial medications are sometimes prescribed empirically because of high incidence of malaria in our country. And not only lariago, but all medications have some serious side effects which cannot be predicted before giving to patients. And from a person writing the article as an expert and using words like manslaughter etc, i expected him to understand the difference between typhoid and typhus atleast
Bhavesh
8 years ago
Being a doctor i know that there are many cases of malpractice that go unpunished everyday. But then there is a bigger problem of barely educated people, who nowadays go by the name of journalist, writing their expert commentary on subjects that they don't have any idea about and start using words like manslaughter. Now i don't know the details of this case and it may or may not have involved a human error resulting in the tragic death of this child. Anti malarial medications are sometimes prescribed empirically because of high incidence of malaria in our country. And not only lariago, but all medications have some serious side effects which cannot be predicted before giving to patients. And from a person writing the article as an expert and using words like manslaughter etc, i expected him to understand the difference between typhoid and typhus atleast
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