MESSIAHS TURN MERCENARIES
WITH INPUTS FROM SAURABH KUMAR, N. ASOKAN, RUPESH PANCHAL AND R. VENKATARAMAN | April 29, 2007 00:00
The oath of Hippocrates becomes an empty slogan as . . .
Munna Bhai MBBS has become one of the iconic movies of Bollywood, with a Mahatma Gandhi inspired sequel that touched a raw emotional chord across a cynical nation. In the original Munna Bhai, actor Boman Irani tells a bunch of aspiring doctors that they must never connect emotionally with their patients. In a gentle and often understated manner, the movie requests doctors in India to become a bit more humane. Reel life and real life in India have a strange tendency to morph into a miasma of myth and tragedy. Viji was a hugely popular actress in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam movies in the early 90s, who had to undergo an operation of her spinal chord in 1996 at the Chennai Apollo Hospital, in order to cure a persistent back problem. After the operation, Viji was swamped with high fever for about 13 days, after which doctors found an acute infection in the wound caused by surgery. There were two more operations and Viji remained bedridden for three years. Says Viji’s father Aswath, “They returned Rs 30,000, which was the fee for the operation. But could they return her three years?” Viji committed suicide in 2000.
Shakeela (name changed) will probably live a few months more at best. The 15-year-old girl from Mumbai, who is being treated for terminal cancer at the prestigious Tata Memorial Hospital, is five months pregnant and has accused two hospital ward boys of raping her. After media reports created a storm of outrage and protest, police in Mumbai have given a clean chit to the hospital and are now saying that the dying girl was having an affair with her carpenter neighbour, who has been
arrested. One could be cynical enough to buy the story that a girl who is ravaged by cancer and is dying, cavorts sexually with a neighbour and then has the guile and presence of mind to drag a ‘prestigious’ hospital into the fray, when her parents discover that she is pregnant. According to Shakila’s mother, when she repeatedly asked the doctors at Tata Memorial about her daughter missing her periods, the doctors claimed that it was because of the intense administration of medication!
You may believe the story of Shakila and her mother, slumdwellers of Mumbai. Or you might believe the cops and the Tata Memorial Hospital that it is snow white when it comes to caring for patients. But even the most cynical have to admit one thing: more and more doctors in India are behaving in a manner that is bringing more than disgrace to the profession. And more and more hospitals are behaving in a manner that could teach a lesson or two to the greatest con men of the world.
But of course, you will find angry doctors, who think that the profession is being vilified needlessly. Says Dr K.K. Agarwal, President, Heart Care Foundation of India, “How could you cast aspersions on the medical profession, if some Tom, Dick and Harry are doing something unethical? Such a person should immediately be relieved of duty and taken to task. Tomorrow, if some goon commits an act of indecency in a hospital, would
you point a finger at the hospital or
Dr Agarwal might proclaim that guilty doctors need to be ‘taken to task’. But many TSI readers may not know that the Honourable Supreme Court, in one of the most controversial verdicts of recent times, stated in 2005 that doctors cannot be criminally prosecuted or even arrested for medical negligence and can only face civil action, unless a fellow doctor of repute concurs with the complainant’s grievance. How many doctors would agree that their colleagues are criminals? In effect, a doctor operating to remove the damaged left kidney can manage to remove the right kidney and escape criminal charges. Or, a doctor who kills a patient, or blinds her through sheer negligence or indifference, is not a criminal. A Constitutional Bench of the Honourable Supreme Court is seized of the matter. No TSI reader will dispute the fact that there are many doctors in India, who have been doing outstanding work in saving lives in a selfless manner. They would even agree that the oath of Hippocrates still touches an emotional chord in some of them. Most know that news about doctors and hospitals nowadays usually revolves around negligence, cheating, sheltering of criminals, malpractice and worse. TSI would like to remind Dr Agarwal and others of his ilk, the reasons why Indian doctors and hospitals are making news.
In February 2007, policemen in a small town called Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh found parts of more than 20 foetuses and new born children, all of them girls. Ratlam is not an aberration; nor is it something doctors in India are unfamiliar with. Many credible research studies have found that at least 10 million, if not more, girl children have been killed before they were born. This is what Renuka Choudhury, Union Minister of State for Women and Child Development, has to say about female infanticide and foeticide, “It is a matter of international and national shame for us that India, with a 9% growth rate, still kills its daughters” Would Dr Agarwal and his ilk deny the incontrovertible fact that such de facto mass murders are being committed by fellow doctors for a few bucks more? Would he deny the fact that just one doctor has been convicted in the last 16 years or so since the whole thing was made illegal?
Even cynical Indians were stunned when a television channel conducted a sting operation on doctors and clinics in Ghaziabad, a suburb of Delhi. The sting operation revealed conclusively that surgeons were more than willing to amputate the legs and arms of beggars, if the money was right. Some would take about Rs 10,000 to amputate an arm, while the more ‘high quality’ doctors would only do both arms and legs if the money offered was at least Rs 50,000. Of course, the business of organ trade, where vital body parts of poor patients are literally robbed to be sold to wealthy donors, is so widely reported that even doctors agree that it is a shame. How can doctors even think of indulging in such malpractices? Would Dr Agarwal and his ilk deny that such ghouls masquerading as doctors flourish in this country? Or, would they parrot the same line that a few black sheep doesn’t mean . . .
One of the juicier and diabolically titillating stories of 2006 was the notorious one involving Rahul Mahajan. The late Pramod Mahajan’s son was rushed to Apollo Hospital in the wee hours after a night-long soiree of drinks and drugs. Doctors at Apollo Hospital tried their best to hush up the matter, while some doctors doctored the admission and patient records. The more intrepid ones went so far as to say that the tests conclusively revealed that there were no traces of drugs in Mahajan’s body. Of course, the facts were to the contrary and the Delhi Police has filed a criminal case against Apollo doctors for destruction of evidence. Knowing the Indian judicial system, we know where the case is heading. Would Dr Agarwal and his ilk deny this incontrovertible fact that doctors and hospitals routinely treat the high and the mighty with kid gloves, even if they have to commit criminal acts? Of course, that familiar litany about how a black sheep doesn’t mean . . .
Rahul Mahajan is not the only beneficiary of benevolent doctors and hospitals. Just think about the number of high and mighty who face arrest and promptly land themselves in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital, where solemn looking doctors declare that the ‘patient’ cannot be removed from the hospital bed? These are the same doctors and hospitals who routinely turn away victims of serious accidents, unless the police is summoned first or unless a lot of money changes hands. Would Dr Agarwal and his ilk deny that this has become the norm rather than the exception in India? Or would they say, just because of some black sheep, you can’t . . .
A Non Resident Indian named Dr Sukumar Saha has refused to surrender to this ‘mafia’ and is fighting since 1998 to bring allegedly criminal doctors to justice. In 1998, on a visit to India, his wife died because of alleged criminal negligence at the hands of doctors. Dr Saha, a reputed doctor and AIDS researcher to boot in the US, filed a criminal case against the doctors. Though the lower court convicted the doctors (the first time in the history of modern India that a doctor was convicted for criminal negligence), the Kolkata High Court overturned the verdict and acquitted the doctors. Dr Saha’s appeal has been accepted by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, his civil compensation case for a record Rs 77-odd crore was rejected by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. The Supreme Court has accepted Dr Saha’s appeal
against even this verdict. Dr Saha probably doesn’t need the money. Nor does Rahul Mahajan. Would Dr Agarwal and his ilk spare a thought for Shakeela and millions of hapless patients like her? For that matter, would Union Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss spare time from very important activities, like attempting to sack the Director of AIIMS and stopping actors from smoking on screen and ponder over what has gone miserably wrong with his fraternity. We are talking about doctors, not politicians.