The UAE has updated its health care law to keep pace with the swift changing requirements in the sector. One of the important objectives has been to attract more talented medical professionals to work in the country. Recent changes to the laws on medical responsibility offer greater protection to medical professionals from liabilities over malpractice. Earlier, doctors were not only liable for civil charges but also faced potential criminal charges for injuries sustained by patients, even if the treatment was administered in good faith.
Other major changes to the law include provisions permitting gender-change surgery, cadaver organ transplants and allowing patients to die in certain circumstances.
* Medical liability
As per Federal Decree Law No 4 of 2016 on Medical Responsibility, there are now only four situations under which a practitioner can be liable for medical malpractice: if he was ignorant of a technical issue which every medical professional should be aware; if he failed to follow recognised professional/medical standards; if he failed to exercise due diligence or act with care and precaution.
A practitioner will not be found negligent even if the treatment administered differs from the usual medical standard so long as it is in accordance with the law. This would suggest some leeway in application of the definition of what may constitute “generally accepted medical standards”.
Medical professionals will not be held responsible if a patient’s injury is found to be self-inflicted or a result of his failure to follow medical advice or undergo the recommended course of treatment.
A new ‘Medical Liability Committee’ will handle complaints or cases referred to the committee by the health authority, the public prosecutor or courts. It will determine whether an error was committed by a professional by investigating the case and issuing a written report within 30 days. The health authority may temporarily suspend a professional’s licence until the committee completes the report. The suspension should not exceed 30 days, unless an extension is granted. Once the report has been issued the practitioner can challenge its findings.
A ‘Supreme Committee of Medical Liability’ will oversee the decisions of the Medical Liability Committee. It can approve, amend or reject the report of the Medical Liability Committee by issuing its own final report, and the findings cannot be challenged. If the Supreme Committee finds an individual negligent, he or she faces a jail term of up to two years or a fine ranging from Dh200,000 to Dh1 million.
A professional may not be arrested or imprisoned for medical malpractice until the final report is issued. For a guilty verdict, the report must confirm the presence of “gross medical error,” suggesting that ordinary errors will not be sufficient to bring criminal charges.
* The right to die
A major development introduced by Article 11 allows professionals to permit a patient to die a ‘natural death’, albeit in limited circumstances by declining to administer CPR. They may do so in situations where the patient has an incurable illness; where all previous treatments have been unsuccessful; where the treating doctor advises that resuscitation should not be provided and at least three consulting doctors have recommended the same. Each of these conditions must be met before resuscitation is denied. However, a patient can insist on resuscitation even if these conditions have been met. But the law does not allow a physician to deliberately end a patient’s life under any other circumstances, even if requested by the patient.
* Sex change operations
Sex change surgeries are prohibited, but a physician is permitted to perform ‘sex correction’ surgeries if it is medically necessary. Such surgeries are allowed in cases where the patient’s sex is ambiguous and there is some confusion over whether he/she is male or female. The penalty for performing an unwarranted sex correction surgery is a jail term of 3-10 years.
* Other provisions
Physicians are banned from attempting to clone a human (Article 12), but they can use technology to offer reproductive assistance to legally married couples.
Doctors can perform abortions in some circumstances: if the woman’s life is in danger, or the foetus is incurably deformed. In both cases, the medical committee must prepare a report stating the reasons for termination of the pregnancy. Unless there is an immediate emergency, the woman’s husband or guardian will need to provide consent before an abortion can be performed. Performing an unlawful abortion can result in up to five years imprisonment for the physician.
* Organ transplants
Decree No 5 aims to prevent the trafficking of human organs. Physicians are banned from knowingly performing an organ transplant using trafficked organs. Such a crime carries a penalty of at least 10 years’ imprisonment and a minimum fine of Dh1 million.
People may only donate organs to either a relative or a spouse (they must be married for at least two years). It will be the doctor’s responsibility to verify the health of the donor and ensure that the organ is free of infectious disease and is suitable for transplant.
Persons can become organ donors upon their death; consent may be registered with Emirates ID. If a deceased person had not expressly declared his/her intention to become a donor upon death, his/her nearest relative may give consent for organ removal, provided the deceased had never declared themselves unwilling to donate their organs. Before a deceased person’s organs can be donated, the donor’s death must be certified by a committee of three specialised physicians.
All organ donations must remain anonymous, both for the family of the donor and the organ recipient.
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