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Supreme Court of India

The compensation order to Dr Kunal Saha of Columbus, Ohio in a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court should send out a strong signal to the medical community that no more will the tendency to trade ethics for money be tolerated

“… when doctors are given targets to extract out of patients then there is something seriously wrong with the system.”

“Let’s face it...the days of the noble family doctor who worked for a pittance is long gone.”

“Let me tell you of a case where a doctor did about a dozen MRIs of a patient and stopped—because of the medical insurance limit—and thereafter returned the young lady to her parents with a verdict that she be taken to a psychiatrist.”

“This is the first time I am hearing compensation amount in this range. Human life should be valued.”

“Good wake-up call for hospitals showing medical negligence.”

“Unless this shortage of medical education is addressed, the quality of health care will suffer.”

—Comments on various websites

In the spring of 1985 in Kolkata a near-perfect love story was being scripted. Later, it blossomed beautifully in the USA, resulted in marriage in 1987. In the next 10 years or so things moved north, and the couple settled down nicely. And then, in 1998, matters turned terribly wrong.

In Kolkata, in the spring of 1985, a
 near-perfect love story was being scripted.
 Later, it blossomed beautifully in the USA
 and resulted in marriage in 1987. In the next
 10 years or so things moved north, and the
 couple settled down nicely. And then, in
 1998, matters turned terribly wrong

Anuradha Saha dreamt of returning to Ohio from Kolkata and settling down at the lakeside mansion that she and her husband had purchased in early 1998

It was January of 1985. Anuradha had flown in to Kolkata to visit family soon after graduating from the Southern California University. Kunal Saha who had studied to become a doctor at Kolkata’s NRS Medical College in 1985 was planning to visit relatives in Delhi but missed his train as he found himself in an interminable traffic jam. He decided to get over the disappointment by calling a few friends together, among them Madhumita, a student of dentistry. Madhumita’s friend Anuradha also joined. For Dr Kunal Saha and Anuradha it was love at first sight.

Anuradha returned to the USA and trained to become a lawyer. But it wasn’t quite the dream profession she had thought it would be. While working with the Department of Children’s Services at Texas she was shocked to find lawyers throwing scruples out of the window while outwitting one another in cut-throat custody battles for abused children. It pained her to witness the mental trauma and agitation that the children were undergoing while the world around them was warring. She decided that law wasn’t for her. Instead she applied for a graduate programme in ‘Child Psychology’ and was accepted at Columbia University.

Destiny made the couple meet in Kolkata after Dr Kunal Saha missed a train to Delhi. They fell in love instantly Anuradha Saha gave up studying law at Texas and instead decided to pursue a course in child psychology at Columbia University in the USA Giant private sector hospitals have cropped up all across the country. But the general perception is that somewhere the real purpose—that of providing top class medical attention and not just presenting patients with enormous bills—gets a back seat

Meanwhile, Dr Saha had also moved to the USA for higher studies at Louisana and subsequently in Texas. Even though 3,000 miles apart, their hearts remained in tune. In July 1987 they got married in Kolkata. By 1993 they had moved to New York. And by early 1998 they moved to Columbus, Ohio, where they bought a lake-front mansion, a Mercedes SUV, and planned to raise their child in style. Life was good. In April 1998 they came down to Kolkata to meet with relatives.

Anuradha was not to return again. She was admitted to the AMRI Hospital in Kolkata after developing rashes on the skin. She eventually died of complications caused by a heavy overdose of depomedrol, a steroid that is quite rarely prescribed since it can cause serious side-effects. Anuradha contracted toxic epidermal necrolysis, a rare disease. Even as her condition deteriorated rapidly, the doctors at AMRI were not willing to discuss the use of the drug.

During the course of the 15 years of litigation, Dr Saha maintained that the doctors used wrong drugs, prescribed excessive doses and did not provide minimal supportive therapy. Additional tests could have prevented her death. He also said doctors in India are generally reluctant to discuss the drugs they use, their side-effects and the treatment protocol with the family or the patient, even though they are legally and morally bound to provide a complete picture to the patient and duty bound to obtain “informed consent”.

While delivering the 210-page judgment, the judges have sent a strong message saying that reckless medical practice will not be tolerated. They have issued a warning to those doctors who do not take their responsibilities seriously. They also chastised the doctors at AMRI for unethical behavior by trying to shift the blame on one another at various times during the trial.

The AMRI have been asked to pay Rs 5.9 crore, up from the Rs 1.73 crore compensation that had earlier been awarded Dr Saha by the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission in 2011. The three doctors will be required to pay Rs 25 lakh. With interest the amount will be about Rs 11 crore. One could say it is small compensation for a man who dearly loved his wife and dreamt up a great future with her. As the Beatles would say, “money can’t buy me love…”



October 2013

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