The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has directed the authorities concerned to discharge to the doctor from criminal prosecution in a case in which a woman died a year after she was given laughing gas (nitrous oxide) instead of oxygen. The incident occurred in 2011 when she was admitted to the Kanyakumari Government Hospital for birth control operation.

The court held that Dr Muthu Shenbagam, an assistant surgeon at the hospital who was in charge of the hospital stores when the incident happened, can not be held guilty for wilful negligence so he can not be aware of the change of gas by the firm.

The doctor moved the high court bench against a trial court last year following which the doctor was made one of the accused in the criminal case. In March 2011, Rukmani, 34, a tailor was admitted to the hospital for birth control operation at the hospital.

Anesthesia for operation 

The doctor stated in the petition that she was administered anaesthesia for the operation. But during the operation, her health deteriorated and immediately anaesthesia was withdrawn. Later, it was found that the cylinder meant for oxygen was (N 2 O) and therefore, instead of giving a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide (N 2 O) in a specific proportion, the patient was administered Nitrous Oxide (N 2 O) alone.

The woman went into a vegetative state and later died in May 2012. Investigations revealed that the gas company had wrongly filled a cylinder with N 2 O in place of oxygen. The Asaripallam police who registered as FIR included the doctor's name as one of the accused as was in charge of the stores and I failed to supervise it properly.

The doctor contended that he was off-duty on the fateful day and he is not connected with the mishap occurred on that day. "Some of the entries found in the form were made by the storekeeper without my knowledge and I am not responsible for the insertion," the doctor stated. The doctor submitted that to a departmental inquiry exonerated him from the charges against him.

Gas company

In a counter, the additional advocate general submitted that the doctor was supposed to supervise the indent and receipt of store materials. It said neither the finding in the departmental inquiry nor the prosecution against the gas company by the assistant director of the drug controller will stand in the way of prosecuting the doctor.

Justice G Jayachandran after perusing the submissions made observed that prosecution can not say the doctor was knowledgeable about the changes. He was off duty that day and can not be booked for negligence. The court set aside the trial court order and discharged the doctor from criminal proceedings .