Jacob Mathew vs. State of Punjab Case -Is it Medical negligence or something driven by misconception?

Supreme Court of India

Jacob Mathew vs. State of Punjab & Anr on 5 August 2005

Date of Judgment: 05/08/2005


The incident took place on 22nd February 1995, the private ward of CMC Hospital, Ludhiana. On 2nd February 1995, late Jiwan Lal Sharma was admitted to the hospital as a patient. On 22nd February he started having breathing trouble. The informant’s elder brother was present in the cabin and he asked the duty nurse for necessary steps. On her part, she contacted some medical practitioners to attend the sufferer.

Unfortunately, no doctor visited the patient for 20 to 25 minutes. Afterward, Dr. Jacob Mathew and Dr. Allen Joseph came to the room to aid the patient with an oxygen cylinder. They connected the cylinder to the mouth of the patient but no health improvement was realized from the patient’s side. As the breathing trouble increased, the sufferer tried to get up but the medical professionals instructed him to remain in the same position. Shockingly, the oxygen cylinder appeared to be empty and no other cylinder was available in the room. It was Vijay Sharma to rush to the adjoining room to bring an oxygen cylinder. There was no system to make the gas cylinders functional and in between 5-7 minutes were squandered. By this time, another medical professional visited the patient and declared him dead.

The younger son filed an FIR against the two doctors who were in charge of Jiwan Lal Sharma. The FIR stated as per record, “The death of my father has occurred due to the carelessness of doctors and nurses and nonavailability of oxygen cylinder and the empty cylinder was fixed on the mouth of my father and his breathing was totally stopped hence my father died. I sent the dead body of my father to my village for cremation and for information I have come to you. Suitable action is done”.

Regarding the above-mentioned notice, an offense was registered and investigated under Section 304A/34 IPC. The charge was against the two doctors. After many ups and downs, the case knocks the door of the Supreme Court. Then the Supreme Court highlighted a few guidelines as follows,

  1. Hospital infrastructure, hygiene, paramedical facilities, emergency arrangements have to be monitored carefully.
  2. Doctors are allowed to prescribe medicines by actual inspection of the disease.
  3. The medical professionals are required to undergo thorough analysis and investigation of the case, before treating a patient.
  4. No experiment should take place from the doctor’s side without the patient’s consent.
  5. In doubtful cases, expert advice is mandatory.
  6. The hospital must keep complete records of tests, diagnosis, and treatment.
  7. Private complaints should not be filed unless the informant produces prima facie evidence.
  8. The investigation office must acquire a valuable medical opinion from a senior doctor serving the Government.
  9. Police cannot arrest doctors unless it is important for evidence or further investigation.

The phrase ‘Medical Negligence’ haunts the mind as it involves tragic loss. But before judging a case in aspects of medical negligence the verdict of the Supreme Court should always be highlighted.


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