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No, hospitals cannot legally detain a dead person’s body even if the deceased person’s family is unable to pay the medical bills.
According to the Patient Rights Charter approved by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, hospitals must release the body of a deceased patient despite non-payment of bills. In 2018, a draft Delhi Government advisory, issued by the Directorate-General of Health Services also stated that the bodies of deceased patients could not, under any circumstances, be detained because of the non-payment of bills. The Delhi High Court, in an order in 2017 (Devesh Singh Chauhan v. State and Others), has confirmed this position. However, the remedies for such a violation are not so clear-cut. Some of them include:
- Filing a complaint with the police under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for wrongful confinement (The Patient Rights Charter also refers to this as the basis for the right to receive the body of a deceased patient).
- Sending a legal notice to the hospital.
- Registering a grievance with the Medical Superintendent of Nursing Homes (The number for the grievance cell for the Directorate-General of Health Services which houses the Medical Superintendent is 22393515.
- Writing a letter to the National Human Rights Commission.
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