This was not my first encounter with the hopeless tangle of rules and regulations we have created for ourselves. I had dealt with enough of those during my stint as a merchant banker. However this one has bothered me more probably because the matter was of a more personal nature.
It had started off as one of the usual hectic Monday mornings. But very soon we had to put things on hold in order to rush my father-in-law to the hospital. He had been bedridden with a tumor in his brain since six months.
We managed to rush him to the hospital and he was immediately wheeled into the Casualty. However, after about fifteen minutes the resident neurologist informed us that Babuji was no more. According to him, he had in fact passed away on his way to the hospital. We sat down quietly, not knowing what to do. Though we had mentally prepared ourselves for this eventuality, in face of it we were too shocked to comprehend anything.
We were in for a second shock when the doctor informed us that as per the hospital’s rules, a cause of death certificate could not be provided by the hospital since the patient was brought in dead. Now, we weren’t prepared for this one. My father-in-law had been under the care and supervision of the neurology team at the hospital since the past six months. We could not think of going to some other doctor for the cause of death certificate since he would not be aware of the patient’s history. Luckily the resident doctor was helpful and offered to sign in his individual capacity if provided with a private practitioners ‘Cause of Death Form’.
After the cause of death had been certified we made our way back home. Hereafter, events took their own course, with relatives pouring in and a priest was arranged to perform the last rites. Friends and relatives suggested that one group should accompany my husband to the crematorium while a few friends offered to go to the municipal office to register the death.
On approaching the municipal office, the officer declared that the doctor who had attested the Cause of Death had a registration from a place outside the city limits and hence his certification was not acceptable. We tried explaining to him that the doctor who had certified the death had attended to the patient for six months and knew more about the cause of death than any other doctor would know. After all wasn’t he a registered medical practitioner. Did it really matter if the registration was from outside Mumbai. However no amount of convincing could appease him. He patiently explained that rules were framed by the authorities and he was only abiding by them. He advised us to get some other doctor to certify instead.
We knew it was fruitless to argue and contacted one of our doctor friends requesting him to help us get out of the mess we were in. He agreed to do so after going through the medical files and talking to the resident doctor at the hospital. Finally we were able to provide the required ‘Cause of Death’ form at the municipal office and register the death.
I was amazed at the huge pantomime that the written law had created. The grief at having lost one’s dear father had taken a back seat. All that was suddenly more important was getting that piece of paper that could enable my husband to go ahead and cremate his father. The whole episode set me thinking. Were rules made to make life simpler and more organized or were they to serve as tools of harassment. Rules framed under law for doctors are not known to them, or probably such a rule did not exist and the municipal officer was just trying to make a few extra bucks. The irony of the matter is that a certificate provided by an unknown doctor for an unknown patient was considered to be more appropriate under law than a certificate provided by the doctor who actually handled the case!!!