Doctor Arrested After Botched Mass Sterilization Kills 13 Indian Women
A doctor who conducted mass sterilizations that resulted in the deaths of 13 women was arrested in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh on Wednesday.
The Associated Press reports Dr. R.K. Gupta insisted he did nothing wrong, despite the fact that he admitted to performing as many as 10 times more sterilization surgeries than allowed by law.
Gupta, who had been in hiding since Saturday, was arrested at a relative’s home in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, said Dr. S.K. Mandal, the state’s chief medical officer. The arrested doctor, who has been charged with culpable homicide and negligence, denied responsibility for the deaths, blaming medication administered to the victims after their surgeries.
“It was not my fault. The administration pressured me to meet targets,” said Gupta, according to India’s NDTV news channel.
(Click here for NDTV report on Dr. Gupta’s arrest, in Hindi.)
The New York Times reports post-mortem examinations of victims suggest that tainted medication could be to blame for the deaths, not septic shock from infections contracted during the surgeries, as initially believed.
“Our earlier claim that the deaths were due to septicemia seem to be coming off,” District Medical Officer Dr. M.A. Jeemani said, according to the Times. “What I have gathered after the first few post-mortems is that it could be due to the administering of spurious medicines.”
A total of 83 women were sterilized for free at a government-run health camp on Saturday as part of a population control campaign. The women, who were paid 1,400 rupees (about $23) for undergoing tubal ligations, were sent home after their surgeries, but dozens of them fell ill and were rushed to multiple private hospitals in Bilaspur.
In addition to the 13 deaths, dozens more women were hospitalized. At least 16 are fighting for their lives.
The Washington Post reports victims’ relatives have been barred from visiting them. Some fear the worst.
“We suspect she’s already dead,” said Gauri Bai, whose 27-year-old daughter-in-law Rashmi, a mother of two, was hospitalized Sunday evening after receiving a tubal ligation at the government camp.
“We thought the government is running the program for the benefit of the poor, but they have cheated us,” Bai told the Post. “We want the guilty to be punished. They have destroyed my family. Who will take care of these little children?”
Responding to public outrage, authorities raided two pharmaceutical companies and began reviewing sterilization procedures at two other government health camps where one woman died and others became ill.
Bilaspur District Commissioner Sonmani Borah said 122 women are being treated at multiple local hospitals. Borah also confirmed that a judicial inquiry has been ordered and that police and the medical board are investigating the incident.
“We are convinced that something went wrong, and those responsible will be dealt with severely. As of now nothing can be ruled out,” said Borah, according to the Post. “The investigations will look into negligence on the part of the doctors and medical staff, the quality of medicines provided at the camp and the equipment used in the procedure.”
India, with 1.25 billion inhabitants, is the world’s second-most populous nation and is expected to pass China’s population by 2030. Indian health officials have pushed sterilization, which is now the most prevalent method of family planning, leading to accusations that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has relied to heavily on sterilization instead of other birth control measures like the contraceptive pill.
In the 1970s, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi spearheaded an aggressive sterilization campaign, which included forced sterilizations of many mostly poor people, including men who fathered more than two children. Doctors were given bonuses for sterilizing the poor, and violent protests followed. Some six million Indians were sterilized under the program, which was deemed a human rights violation.
According to the United Nations, India has one of the world’s highest sterilization rates, with 37 percent of women undergoing such operations. About 4.6 million Indian women were sterilized in 2011 and 2012, according to government figures.
Although the Indian government officially abandoned sterilization targets in the 1990s, Borah accused district family planning authorities of trying to fulfill an annual quota by organizing mass sterilization drives in recent days.
“The district family planning departments have annual targets, and they try to convince more and more people into these camps,” Borah is quoted by thePost. “We will see if there was breach of protocol on part of the officials.”