Liability of doctors for surgical and medical treatment errors

Question 20How can a doctor compensate a patient if he causes him physical disability in spite of taking great caution to avoid this? What will be the case if he commits a mistake, but without causing any harm to the patient? A doctor diagnosed a patient advising that an operation was needed to remove the appendix, but when he operated on the patient, he found the appendix healthy. Nonetheless, he removed it then discovered that the patient was suffering from acute renal colic. Doctors said that this is a common error that many doctors make. Removing the healthy appendix will get him in trouble with the patient, because he must inform him that it is healthy and that he has not removed it.This will cause him many problems such as being sued and tarnishing his reputation. On the other hand, if he does not inform him, the patient may develop an infection and go to another doctor who will see the surgical scar. He will not think that he is suffering from an infected appendix and the patient might die as a result of concealment of the truth about the previous surgery. Therefore, he must do one of two things: Either inform him or remove it. If he removes it, is he entitled to take the fees agreed upon? This is just one problem we face in our job and if we treat this matter outside the Sharee‘ah (Islaamic law) – just as all doctors do – there will be no problem but we need to apply Sharee‘ah on ourselves. Kindly advise.

Answer: First: If doctors perform what is required of them and they are skillful in their work, know the exact condition of the patient they operate on and do not go beyond this, no compensation is to be paid if they commit a mistake. They also will not be liable for resulting death or physical disability, because they have performed what they are authorized to do according to Sharee‘ah. This is analogue to a Muslim ruler when he cuts the hand of a thief, or has done some permissible act which he is authorized to do according to his duties. However, if the doctor is not skillful, it is not permissible for them to perform the surgery; rather, it is forbidden for them to perform it... read more here.

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