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Times of India
06 July 2011
By, Swati Deshpande
Mumbai, India

Complainant P C Singhi outside Esplanade court on Tuesday Complainant P C Singhi outside Esplanade court on Tuesday
The Esplanade court on Tuesday held world-renowned cancer surgeon Dr Praful B Desai guilty in a negligence case filed against him 23 years ago by a retired IAS officer, P C Singhi. On December 22, 1987 Desai had attempted to operate on Singhi’s wife Leela, who was suffering from cancer, even though doctors in the US had said she was ‘inoperable’. Leela died at home in 1989. Since then, the 84-year-old Singhi, a cancer survivor, has been fighting for justice. At the time, Desai was attached to Bombay Hospital.

An additional chief metropolitan magistrate, on Tuesday,

said he had gone through the evidence and held Desai “guilty of negligence”. The eminent oncologist, who is now 76 years old, was asked to pay Rs 50,000 compensation. The magistrate also asked the doctor to remain till the ‘rising of the court’. Dr Desai denied that Leela was his patient. He said his name appeared in the case papers as a mere formality.

A Matter of Life & Death The case is of historical proportion, said lawyers. The battle was a tough one with Desai opposing and challenging every judicial development. The case also led to the first-ever witness deposition in a criminal trial via video conferencing. In 2003 the New York-based Dr Ernest Greenberg gave his witness statements as to how surgery was not advisable in the case.

The IAS officer’s wife, Leela, a cancer patient since 1977 Greenberg and other doctors in the US. They had advised her against any further surgery as the cancerous tumour had spread to the uterus and could result in excessive bleeding.

When they returned to India, and her condition worsened, Mukherji, then Desai’s assistant, had recommended that Leela be admitted as Desai’s patient at Bombay Hospital.

She was admitted to Bombay Hospital on December 9, 1987 as Desai’s patient. According to the retired IAS officer, Leela was Desai’s patient and after examining her on December 17, 1987 he had recommended and set up a date for her surgery despite the patient’s “protests”.

According to Singhi, Desai asked his assistant K Mukherji to open up the abdomen for the surgery and call him when things were ready as he was in another operation theatre. When Mukherji opened up the patient he realised that surgery was not advisable.

Without even checking on his patient, Desai asked Mukherji to stitch up the abdomen. Singhi said that after the surgery attempt, his 54-yearold wife was in considerable pain. She finally returned to her home in Jaipur. She passed away on February 26, 1989.

Even before his wife’s death, Singhi filed a case of medical negligence against the doctor. But things moved only when the Maharashtra Medical Council in 1991 held Desai guilty under its code of ethics and issued him a warning.

Desai in his defence maintained that it was not his case. He said Leela was his assistant Mukherji’s patient and since junior doctors were not allowed to admit patients under their own name, the names of the senior surgeon would appear in the case papers. “Such senior surgeons whose name appeared as a formality had no responsibility towards such patients. My role was limited to only giving an opinion as she had been referred to me by Mukherji,” Desai argued before the court, but to little avail.

Last November the Esplanade Court had discharged Mukherji after the state government in a belated act, said it had no evidence to proceed with the trial against him. The detailed court order will be available at a later date.

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