Study declaration of COVID-19 deaths: HC


The Madras High Court on Friday observed that the Tamil Nadu government could conduct a study, by a specialised team, of the declaration of COVID-19 deaths since there were complaints of many deaths not having been attributed to the contagion.

The First Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy also said it would only be “fit and proper” to revise death certificates already issued, “if necessary,” on the basis of the proposed study.

The judges called for a preliminary response from the State within a fortnight so that the issue could be addressed in a more detailed manner. Advocate-General R. Shunmugasundaram agreed to do so. Further, observing that there were grievances all over the country regarding COVID-19 deaths not having been recorded appropriately, the judges directed Additional Solicitor-General R. Sankaranarayanan to ascertain the Centre’s response.

The interim orders were passed on a public interest litigation petition filed by Chennai-based advocate H.A. Shrirajalakshmi through her counsel T. Mohan. The litigant had said the families of many COVID-19 victims in the State were unable to get cash relief and other benefits as the deaths had been recorded to have been caused by lung or heart problems and not by the pandemic.

Stating that the petition had raised an important issue, the judges said that as far as Tamil Nadu was concerned, there were reports in some quarters that unless a COVID-19-positive report had been issued with respect to a patient, his/her death would not be recorded as COVID-19 death. There were also complaints of many deaths not being attributed to COVID-19 if the patients were suffering from other ailments.

“Without attempting to go into the specialised domain of doctors and persons trained in such regard, it is elementary that the major ailment suffered by a person may result in the heart being attacked and death due to such attack. However, the cause of the death in such a case may not be appropriately attributed to just a heart attack, but the underlying reason for the heart being attacked ought to be regarded as the real cause. So has it to be done in case of deaths triggered by COVID-19 even if the person suffered from co-morbidities,” the court said.

The judges said that only accurate recording of deaths would help in studies being undertaken to deal with a pandemic of this nature in future. “Also, the immediate concern in some cases is that the relief that the family of a person who died due to COVID-19 is entitled to may not be available unless the death certificate attributes the cause of death to COVID-19,” they said.

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