In the news: SC asks search engines to block sex determination ads; stent price crackdown and more

A wrap of the health news over the past week.

Sex determination laws versus free speech

The Supreme Court last week asked search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to ban all advertisements for sex determination tests. However, the court also observed that while there should be a restriction on such ads, a general ban on all online content pertaining to sex determination was dangerous and would amount to curtailing a person’s fundamental right to know.

The court was deliberating on a PIL by activist Sabu George seeking a complete ban on all online searches related to pre-natal sex determination on the grounds that such tests are illegal under Indian law. The Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, of 1994 prohibits sale of sex determination kits or their promotion by way of advertisements.

In February, the court had asked search engines like Google and Yahoo to implement mechanisms to identify and block content relating to pre-natal sex determination. The companies had opposed the directive and free speech activists have also pointed out that it could lead to censorship of content on the Internet by private parties.

On Tuesday last week the court free speech consideration against the sex-determination laws. “Prenatal sex determination ads is an offence,” a three-judge Bench led by Justice Dipak Misra observed, according to a report in The Hindu. “But a general prohibitory order against all online information pertaining to sex determination is dangerous. We will be curtailing the right to know under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.”

On Thursday, the court heard the matter again and passed and asked the search engines to prohibit advertisements relating to sex-determination tests but did not impose a complete ban on all such searches.

NPPA issues notices to hospitals

The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority has started issuing notices to hospitals for not complying with its new guidelines on coronary stents. In early February the drug pricing regulator brought stents under price control and capped the price of the devices at Rs 7,260 for bare metal stents and Rs 29,600 for drug-eluting stents. Between February 14 to March 15, the NPPA has found violations of this price cap in as many 40 health institutions.

In a notification on Friday, the NPPA announced that it had issued show cause notices to the managements of hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions to recover the money they made by overcharging cardiac patients for stents. The regulator has also sent pre-prosecution notices under The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to institutions in violation of its February order.

Meanwhile, advocate Birender Sangwan has filed PILs at the Delhi High Court against 18 hospitals in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune for overcharging cardiac stents. Sangwan’s earlier PIL had led to the NPPA slashing of prices of cardiac stents by about 85% in February.

The Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration had stepped up its vigilance as a part of its larger plan to detect overpricing of stents after the NPPA received complaints about stents being sold at higher prices at KEM Hospital, Lilavati Hospital and a few hospitals in Pune and Nashik.

Indian Medical Association against West Bengal law

The Indian Medical Association has decided to move court questioning the validity of a new law passed by the West Bengal government to regulate clinical establishments. The Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Act, 2017 seeks to address medical negligence by allowing fines on erring doctors and also imprisonment for certain violations. The Indian Medical Association has, however, been protesting what it calls the “criminalisation of doctors”.

The association’s president KK Aggarwal said that the body’s legal cell was looking into the possibility of opposing the unconstitutional provisions of the Act, which include the fines imposed on top of the penalties imposed by the Consumer Protection Act and the exemption of government hospitals from the purview of the Act. Aggarwal said that these provisions are unfair and cannot make for universally acceptable law that seeks to prevent medical negligence.

The association is also planning to hold political protests and observe “National IMA Black Day” on April 27.

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