Based on a reference made by the Chief Justice of India, the Madhya Pradesh High Court on Friday took cognizance of a tragic incident in the state where an elderly man suffering from COVID-19 was tied to a bed, after he allegedly failed to make payment of fees for his treatment at a hospital in Shajapur district based on a letter written by former Law Minister and Senior Advocate Dr. Ashwani Kumar
On the instructions of the CJI, the Supreme Court Registry had forwarded the letter to the High Court, seeking implementation of the fundamental right to die with dignity.
A bench of Chief Justice AK Mittal and Justice Vijay Kumar Shukla has decided to treat the letter as a PIL and has issued notices to the Union of India through Secretary, Ministry of Health; state of Madhya Pradesh through Principal Secretary, Department of Health; Collector, Shajapur; and Chief Medical Officer, District Hospital, Shajapur.
The court has asked them to file their response before the next date of hearing.
On June 6, a viral video showed that an 80-year-old man was tied to the hospital bed, at Shajapur's City Hospital, after he and his family were unable to clear hospital bills for treatment of COVID-19.
Assistant Solicitor General JK Jain and Additional Advocate General RK Verma, who accepted notice on behalf of the Centre and the state, informed the court that appropriate action had already been initiated against the concerned hospital and an FIR had been lodged.
They further informed the court that the person who was detained by the concerned hospital had also been freed, after waiving the bills.
Taking these submissions on record, the bench has posted the matter for hearing on July 6, 2020.
As indicated in Dr. Kumar's letter, the man's family alleged that the hospital administration tied his legs and hands to bed after he failed to pay Rs 11,000. "We had deposited a bill of ₹ 5,000 at the time of admission but when the treatment took a few more days, we did not have the money to pay the bill," said his daughter.
The hospital, however, maintained that he was tied because he was having convulsions because of electrolyte imbalance. "He was having convulsions because of electrolyte imbalance. We tied him so that he could not hurt himself," said a doctor at the hospital. The doctor also added that the hospital had waived off their bill on humanitarian grounds.
After the reports surfaced, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took note of the matter and promised to take strict action against the hospital. The district hospital and Shajapur district administration also ordered a probe into the matter.