(Apr. 2, 2009) On March 10, 2009, the State Duma (legislature) of the Russian Federation adopted amendments to article 124 of the country's Criminal Code, which establishes the punishment for refusal to provide assistance to a sick person. An amendment bill introduced by the leading pro-government party faction “United Russia” was almost unanimously passed in all three required readings, which were held virtually simultaneously.
The new law eliminates criminal responsibility of medical personnel for damaging a person's health by negligence. The revised version of the Code provides for up to three years of imprisonment only for those persons who are required by law or other special rules to provide medical service to sick individuals and who, with no reasonable cause, did not provide such assistance, if a patient died as a result of that non-assistance. The authors of the legislative amendment stated in support of their position that the previous version of the article did not work, and physicians whose negligence inflicted minor or moderate harm on a patient's health were never prosecuted to the full extent of the law, even though about 50,000 people die in Russia due to medical errors annually. (Physicians' Responsibility for Causing Harm Is Lessened [in Russian], NEWSRU, Mar. 11, 2009, available at http://www.newsru.com/russia/11mar2009/mistak_print.html.)