Any lapse in stating COVID-19 as cause of demise in death certificate will have penal consequences, says Centre in SC

‘All deaths with a diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of co-morbidities, are to be classified as deaths due to COVID-19,’ the Centre clarified.

Any lapse in stating COVID-19 as the cause of demise in a death certificate will have penal consequences for those found responsible, including the certifying doctor, the Centre has warned in the Supreme Court.

“It is mandated that any death resulting from COVID-19 shall have to be so certified i.e. as COVID death, failing which, everyone responsible, including the certifying doctor, shall be responsible for penal consequences,” the Centre said in its affidavit on Sunday.

The government further clarified that deaths with a diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of co-morbidities, had to be certified as COVID-19 deaths. The only exception to the rule was when there was a clear alternative cause of death, for example, accidental trauma, poisoning, etc.

The Supreme Court recently told the Centre that death certificates of those who succumbed to COVID-19 virus often did not reveal that fact. “The death certificates of persons who die from COVID in hospitals show the reason as lung or heart problem or something else,” Justice M.R. Shah had addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, recently.

“All deaths with a diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of co-morbidities, are to be classified as deaths due to COVID-19,” the Centre clarified.

The government said ‘death certification’ was required for recording deaths in accordance with the regulations prescribed by the Registrar General of India.

“The primary goal of certification of cause of death [death certificate] is to identify and correctly classify all deaths due to a medical condition [eg. COVID-19] and to eliminate any discrepancy in coding so as to obtain true estimates of burden of COVID-19 deaths,” the Centre explained.

It said “any breach of the guidelines for recording COVID-19 deaths would be a criminal offence as stipulated under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code”. This provision punishes disobedience to an order duly promulgated by a public servant.

In fact, non-adherence to government guidelines on recording COVID-19 deaths would amount to contempt of court, the Centre pointed out. This is because the Supreme Court had last year in Alakh Alok Srivastava case related to COVID-19 monitoring said that “disobedience to an order promulgated by a public servant would result in punishment under Section 188 IPC”.

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