A bench comprising Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna was considering the fresh guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to simplify the process of issuance of death certificates, as per the directions in the judgment delivered on June 30.
As per the said guidelines, deaths occurring due to poisoning, suicide, homicide and deaths due to accident, among others, will not be considered as COVID-19 deaths even if COVID- 19 is an accompanying condition.
These guidelines were placed on record before the Supreme Court through a compliance affidavit filed on September 11.
"We've gone through your counter and it seems to be okay. However there are 2/3 things that we want to point out", Justice Shah told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
"What about the persons who committed suicide while they were suffering from Corona?", Justice Shah asked. The judge said that exclusion of suicides where COVID was an accompanying condition cannot be prima facie be accepted. "You have to re-consider this", Justice Shah told the SG.
The bench also raised the following other queries :
- Timeline for constitution of Committee for redressal of grievances regarding death certificates
- Documents to be submitted by the family members before the Committee
- Documents that are to be provided by the concerned Hospitals
The Bench has also asked Centre to also look into the certificates that have been issued already and the remedy that would be available to the family members in case they have disputes with regards to the cause of death.
The Top Court has also asked the Union to apprise the Court about the compliance with respect to the guidelines that are to be issued by the National Disaster Management Authority for determination of compensation.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assured that the guidelines for determination of compensation would be in place before the next date of hearing which is September 23, 2021.
The bench was hearing a contempt petition filed seeking compliance of the June 30 judgment which directed framing of guidelines for the grant of compensation for people who died due to COVID and issuance of death certificates for them(Gaurav Bansal v.Union of India).
The Supreme Court on September 3 had directed the Union Government to show compliance by September 11 to the judicial directions passed on June 30 to frame guidelines to simplify the process for issuance of death certificates with respect to those who died due to COVID-19.
Pursuant to Court's direction the Central Government in its compliance affidavit told the Supreme Court that it had framed guidelines to simplify the process of the issuance of COVID-19 death certificates in compliance with the directions in the judgment passed on June 30.
The affidavit had also stated that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Indian Council for Medical Research had jointly issued guidelines on September 3 for issuance of an "official document" on COVID-19 deaths.
It was also submitted in the affidavit that the Office of the Registrar General of India ("ORGI") has issued a circular on 3rd September, 2021 to provide a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to the next of kin of the deceased.
What was the Supreme Court's verdict?
The directions were issued by a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah in the judgment delivered on June 30 in the cases Gaurav Kumar Bansal vs Union of India and Reepak Kansal vs Union of India and Others.
The bench had made it clear that a death certificate issued in respect of a COVID fatality must clearly specify the cause of death as COVID itself. Also, if a person has died due to any other complications or disease due to COVID, then also the death certificate should specifically mention the cause of death as COVID.
"In the death certificate also, if a person has died due to Covid-19 and/or any other complications/disease due to Covid-19, it should be specifically mentioned in the death certificate", the Court said.
".we feel that the procedure should be as simplified as it can be. Therefore, a simplified procedure/guidelines is/are required to be issued by the Central Government and/or appropriate authority for issuance of an official document/death certificate stating the exact cause of death, i.e., "Death due to Covid-19", to the family members of the deceased who died due to Covid-19", the Court observed.
Illustratively, the Court suggested :
"For guidance, such guidelines may provide if a person has died after he was found covid positive and he has died within two to three months, either in the hospital or outside the hospital or at home, the death certificate/official document must be issued to the family members of the deceased who died due to Covid-19 stating the cause of death as "Died due to Covid-19". He/she might have died even due to other complications, however, due toCovid-19"
The Court also said that guidelines should provide a remedy to a person who may have a grievance that an incorrect death certificate was issued in respect of a COVID fatality.
"The Appropriate Authority is directed to issue simplified guidelines for issuance of Death Certificates/official document stating the exactcause of death, i.e., "Death due to Covid-19", to the family members of the deceased who died due to Covid-19", the Court directed.
On September 3, the Court had expressed displeasure at the Central Government for its delay in issuing the guidelines for COVID death certificates."By the time you frame the guidelines, the third phase will also be over", Justice Shah had remarked while asking the Centre to file the compliance affidavit by September 11 without fail.