How can a doctor compensate a patient if he causes him physical disability in spite of taking great caution to avoid this? What if he commits a mistake, but without causing any harm to the patient?
A doctor diagnosed a patient and said 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. Not 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. (Part No. 24; Page No. 400) This will cause him many problems, such as being sued and having his reputation tarnished. 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 may 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 Shari‘ah (Islamic law) - just as all doctors here do - there will be no problem, but we need to apply the Shari‘ah on ourselves. Kindly advise.
Firstly, 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 the condition at hand, no compensation is required 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 the Shari‘ah. This is analogous to a Muslim ruler when he cuts the hand of a thief, or performs 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; it is even forbidden. If they carry it out, they must pay compensation for any error and will be liable for ensuing harm. The same will be the case if they are skillful, but they overstep the limits of the operation, or have used an inappropriate instrument that causes great pain, or have chosen a wrong time for surgery, or have operated on another organ, and so on. (Part No. 24; Page No. 401) They must pay compensation in these cases and will be liable for ensuing harm, because it is not permissible, rather it is forbidden, for them to perform it.Secondly, a doctor must be accurate in their diagnosis, consult with their colleagues before doing the surgery, use modern equipments as much as possible in diagnosis, and not rush to operate before making sure of the diagnosis. If any mistake occurs after these steps, the doctor must confess the mistake done to the people they are responsible before. They must not conceal the truth or deceive them. They must write this down in the patient record out of fear of Allah’s Punishment and to fulfill the duty of behaving honestly. They must give priority to the interest of the patient over self-interest. They must avert any adverse impacts that concealment and trickery may have on the health of the patient. They are not entitled to take fees for the surgery in which they have committed a mistake, as mentioned in the above example or other cases. May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family and Companions.