MR. ‘X’ v. HOSPITAL ‘Z’ – JURISPRUDENTIAL ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGMENT
Author: Niveditha R, II year of B.Com.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad
FACTS AND JUDGMENT
A local specialist, referred to as Mr X, assisted a patient on his trip to Madras. The day before the surgery, the doctors in Madras requested Mr X to donate blood just in case they needed it during the procedure. The appellant was found to be HIV + by the respondent hospital. X was to marry Y on December 12, 1995. However, sometime before the marriage was proposed to happen, it was called off as X’s medical record was shared by the doctor to Y and her family. Mr X consequently lodged a lawsuit with the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission. The Commission rejected the appeal and ordered Mr X to put this case before the civil court if he desired to obtain relief. Mr X later appealed this dismissal to the Supreme Court of India.[i]
The Court addressed thoroughly the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and the right to life. It concluded, having reference to the very fact that the appellant was found to be HIV positive, its disclosure wouldn't be violative of either the rule of confidentiality or the appellant’s right of privacy as Ms. ‘Y’ had a greater interest in knowing about her potential husband’s medical condition than a personal claim of privacy. Therefore, they found no fault on the part of the Hospital for divulging Mr X’s status. The blog further discusses the application of the theories of jurisprudence propounded by noteworthy jurists.
The judgement primarily deals with the contention that the doctor’s duty to maintain secrecy has a correlative right that is vested in the patient i.e. Mr X. The right of Mr X is that the information that the doctor possesses with regards to the patient shouldn’t be divulged to anybody else. It is stated in the judgement that every right has a correlative duty and every duty has a correlative right and this is the underlying principle of jurisprudence. It can be understood from the pleadings of the counsel for the appellant, that a right is regarded as an interest that is safeguarded by the rules that exist and that violation of such rights would constitute a legal wrong. This is on the lines of Salmond’s definition of duties and rights. According to Salmond, a right is an interest that is recognised and protected by a rule of right.[ii]
The respect for such interests is a duty and the disregard of it is wrong. It is asserted that right as per Salmond, should be a rule of law and should be enforceable by law because he put forth the concept that interest is safeguarded by a rule of right. For it to constitute a right, the essential of interest is significant. This right has a correlative duty. The interest of an individual makes a person obligated to do or to abstain from doing anything and this is the duty that the interest throws upon the other person. Salmond classifies duty as legal and moral. According to him, a duty is said to be legal when it is recognised by law and is the obligation of the individual as a liability that is related to the legal sanction imposed. Any act which is contrary to the duty would be construed legally wrong. A moral duty is that which is morally or naturally considered to be right. Any act which is converse to such moral duty would be regarded to be morally wrong. In the case at hand, the duty that the doctor owed was to maintain secrecy and to not disseminate the information or knowledge about X’s health that he was privy to. The right of Mr X was to that of privacy with regards to his medical information. Though for reasons which can be justified, this right was violated by the doctor. A wrong is said to be committed when the right or specifically, a legal right, of the individual is violated. Such violation jeopardises the interests of the individual according to Salmond. Hence, under the theory of rights and duties propounded by Salmond, the respondent will be liable to compensate for the damages that its act of dissemination, accrued to the appellant.
According to Austin, a person is entitled or considered to have a right when his right binds other people or obliges other people to do or not to do something under law. Right as defined by him, is a faculty which resides in a determinate party or parties under a given law and which avails against a party or parties 'or answers to a duty lying on a party or parties other than the party or parties in whom it resides.[iii] The rights of an individual always correspond with a duty that amounts to either an act or a forbearance. There are two theories of duties as per Austin. The first one deals with absolute duties and the second involves duties that are relative to the rights. As the name suggests, absolute duties are those without any exceptions and that is to be fulfilled at all costs.
This type of duty is further classified into four kinds of viz.
a) self-regarding duties
b) Duties owed to persons indefinitely
c) Duties not regarding persons
d) Duties owed to the sovereign.
The first one is concerning the duty that all individuals owe to themselves to safeguard their rights, the second one includes duties that are owed for an unlimited time, the third refers to duties that an individual owes to other living beings or to God and the last one deals with the duties that an individual is obligated to perform under the rules of sovereign or under the law laid by them. Relative duties are those duties that are associated with the right of an individual. This is the duty that has to be performed towards a specific individual. Keeping in mind the relative theory of duties, the respondent, in this case, would be obligated to abstain from sharing the private medical details of the appellant. The duty that the doctor owes is associated with the right of privacy that the appellant is said to have. By following the absolute theory of duties propounded by Austin, especially the fourth kind of duty, the duty which is owed to the sovereign, the respondent must not share information under the oath he took under law. Both theories of duties of Austin lead to the same solution in the case at hand. Under Austin’s theory, the doctor is said to be bound by the duty he owed towards Mr X and is liable to pay damages to the appellant for the loss caused by him.
JOHN STUART MILL
Mill promoted the theory of utilitarianism which broadly dealt with the principle that actions are right if they aim to promote pleasure or happiness or joy and wrong if they tend to produce pain. The central theme of the book he wrote on liberty was that people should be free to do whatever they wish to do provided they do not cause harm to others. He promoted the concept of individual liberty and believed that respecting individual liberty would lead to further happiness in society. His theory of utilitarianism assigns rights an important role in moral deliberation.[iv] He contended that rights are a significant essential to promote utility.
According to him, a right is violated when there is some wrong done or when the person has been wronged. His theory of justice also gives a special place to rights that are derived from duties. The moral obligations that correspond with the rights and duties are said to involve the aspect of justice. He divides duties into two, perfect and imperfect. Perfect duties are said to be those whose performance is necessitated by the presence of rights. However, imperfect duties are devoid of rights. These rights should be done rarely and don’t constitute a specific or particular action. When an individual can claim that another person has an obligation towards them and where such an obligation can be performed by way of compulsion once such duty arises, the question of justice comes into the picture. Duties are said to be associated with a correlative right when the duty arises from a just claim. In the present case, the respondent is said to have a perfect duty which is corresponded with the right of the appellant to privacy. A wrong has been done by the doctor as he has violated the right of the appellant. Hence, the respondent will be liable to compensate the appellant for the damages caused.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court failed to take into consideration the damages that the appellant suffered because of the disclosure of his private medical records. The appellant was held to be not entitled to receive compensation for the aforementioned loss. It also conveniently forgot about the rights of the appellant that were violated by the respondent. We believe that the decision that can be arrived into by following the principles laid down by Salmond, Austin and Mill with regards to duties and correlative rights is much more appropriate.
[i]Mr. ‘X’ v. Hospital ‘Z’, AIR 1999 SC 495.
[ii]Chapter VI Concepts of the Law,
[iii]Mohd Aqib Aslam, Rights and Duties In The Light of Jurisprudence. An Overview,