Doctors to face action for failing to certify Covid deaths, SC told

New Delhi: The Centre has told the Supreme Court that any death resulting from Covid-19 infection should have to be certified as Covid death, and if not done so, the certifying doctor will face action.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in an affidavit, said: “It is mandated that any death resulting from Covid-19 must have to be so certified that is, as Covid death, failing which everyone responsible, including the certifying doctor, will be responsible for penal consequences.”

It emphasised that all deaths with a diagnosis of Covid-19, irrespective of co-morbidities, are to be classified as deaths due to the infection.

The MHA affidavit said: “All deaths with a diagnosis of Covid-19 irrespective of co-morbidities are to be classified as deaths due to the infection. The only exception could be where there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be attributed to Covid-19 (e.g. accidental trauma, poisoning, acute myocardial infarction, etc) where Covid is an incidental finding.”

It submitted, that for recording of Covid-19 deaths, that there is a statutory mechanism in place either by way of an Act of Parliament or guidelines having the force of mandate and the law. Any breach of the guidelines mentioned here under would be a criminal offence as stipulated under Section 188 of the IPC, it said.

Noting that broad guidelines for recording of Covid-19 related deaths in India were prepared by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it said: “The guidelines clearly state Covid-positive deaths implicate deaths related to the infection. These guidelines are in sync with the WHO Mortality Coding.”

The Centre said as per the provisions of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, the contemporary system is state governed and implementation of the statute is vested with the state governments/Union Territories administration.

The state authority (Chief Registrar) has been declared as the chief executive authority in the respective state for implementing the provisions of this Act and rules and the order framed.

“The District Registrar for each district within the state is responsible for executing the provision of RBD Act and rules in respective districts. There are more than 2.8 lakh registration centres in rural areas and nearly 7,500 in urban areas,” the affidavit added.

According to provisions of the act, at the local area level, the death events are registered by the designated local authority (Registrar) on the basis of information given to him/her by the informant prescribed under Sections 8 or 9 of the RBD Act.

The affidavit said under the provisions of Section 10 of the RBD Act, the information related to cause of death is filled up by the medical practitioner attending to the deceased at the time of terminal illness.

“The medical practitioner should after the death of the person issue a certificate as to the cause of death in prescribed forms stating to the best of his knowledge and belief the cause of death. This cause of death certificate is sent to the Registrar along with death reporting form on the basis of which the Registrar makes necessary entries related to cause of death in the register of death, at the time of registration of death event,” the affidavit added.

Under the provision of Section 17 of the RBD Act, “no extract relating to any death, issued to any person should disclose the particulars regarding the cause of death as entered in the register”.

“Accordingly, the cause of death cannot be disclosed by the Registrar to any person, hence the extract/death certificate does not include any information related to the cause of death of an individual, it is therefore most respectfully said the death certificate does not show the cause of the death of any individual,” said the affidavit.

On May 24, the Supreme Court had suggested there must be a uniform policy and also some guidelines for issuance of death certificates for those affected with Covid-19.

A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R.Shah had said many times, reasons given in a death certificate can be heart attack or lung failure but these could be triggered by Covid-19. The bench asked Centre’s counsel, “So how are death certificates being issued?”

The Centre filed affidavit in response to the petitions filed by advocates Reepak Kansal and Gaurav Kumar Bansal citing Section 12(3) of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) providing monetary compensation for the families of those who died during a notified disaster. The top court will take up the matter on Monday.