Human life, above all: On the Rajasthan Right to Health Act and the stance of doctors

Opposition of doctors to the right to health comes from baseless misgivings 

Updated - March 30, 2023 10:38 am IST

Published - March 30, 2023 12:20 am IST

It is confounding how something that is stridently ‘good’ in ethical and legal terms can run into a wall of opposition built on narrow professional and commercial interests. As in the case of the Right to Health Act that was passed in Rajasthan last week, and the unprecedented kerfuffle that followed, with doctors in the State vehemently protesting what they called a ‘draconian law’. The Right to Health is in sync with the constitutional guarantee of right to life, and other components of the Directive Principles. That no person seeking health care should be denied it, on the grounds of access and affordability, is an acceptable proviso. The Rajasthan Right to Health Act, 2022, addresses these key issues of access and affordability. It “seeks to provide protection and fulfilment of rights, equity in relation to health and well-being for achieving the goal of health care for all through guaranteed access to quality health care for all residents of the State, without any catastrophic out-of-pocket expenditure”. The law, which also provides for a social audit and grievance redress, gives every resident of the State the right to emergency treatment without paying a single paisa to any health-care institution, and specifies that private health-care institutions would be compensated for the charges incurred for such treatment.

The doctors who came out in large numbers to protest the law on the streets of Jaipur said they were distrustful of the government’s promise of recompense for expenses incurred for treating patients during an emergency. To the charge that there is no detailing of the process, health right activists have pointed out that it would be a function of the Rules, not the law itself. The protesting doctors also claimed to be apprehensive of the government’s interference in their functioning once the law is enforced. Ironically, all of them believe that health care is a right of the people; only, they believe that the State would have to be the sole provider. However, this is scarcely the first such exposition of the right to health. In 1989, the Supreme Court observed that “every injured citizen brought for medical treatment should instantaneously be given medical aid to preserve life and thereafter the procedural criminal law should be allowed to operate in order to avoid negligent death”. Having transformed a progressive ideal into law, Rajasthan should now strive to gain the trust of the doctors through demonstrable action. It is also incumbent upon the doctors to rise above the differences, and work with the government to save human lives.

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