Vulnerability of Doctors under Section 354 IPC
The arrest of a 70 year old doctor in Barnala on allegations made by female relative of a patient has opened a pandora’s box for medical professionals. Despite countless witnesses (other patients) the police in its wisdom has arrested the doctor pending grant of bail. The truth about the allegations and possibility of blackmail will come to be known later but it does expose the vulnerability of male doctors who examine and deal with female patients and their relatives.
What does section 354 state. It states that Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished.
354 A. Doctors are specially vulnerable to blackmail using this section as a tool since no exception of the kind given in section 354 D to sleuths has been provided to Doctors who need to touch a woman’s body during examination which may be misconstrued or deliberately projected as physical contact and advance involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures. Even clause iv ie making sexually coloured remarks, by a male urologist or gynaecologist could land him in jail for 3 yrs with fine.
354B. A doctor asking a female patient to disrobe for examination may similarly be charged with abetting use of force to any woman with the intention of disrobing or compelling her to be naked and shall be punishable with imprisonment for upto 7 years
354C. Doctors making video recordings of procedures, taking photographs where victims genitals, breasts or posterior is exposed will be vulnerable of being implicated under this section as a man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or disseminates such image. Punishment is imprisonment for a term which extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
354D. Does not concern doctors as it involves stalking a woman but is interesting to note that sleuths have been included in exception and also excluded is if the conduct was "reasonable and justified".
It is important that medical associations and other bodies become proactive on the issue. During a video colonoscopy procedure a woman’s posterior is exposed, photographed and live display goes on in the endoscopy room which may contain more than 10 people. Tomorrow the endoscopist may be charged and face 7 years in jail for an act done as per medical ethics. A nurse removing the blouse of a patient for examination of breasts by the doctor may land the male doctor into trouble for “abetting in use of force to disrobe”. No exclusions have been made for male doctors under this Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013. The 70 year old doctor may have age on his side to defend him but the possibility of travesty of justice being committed under these sections against medical professionals is enormous