Imagine that you have a patient in the family who is rather unwell. Something serious seems to have afflicted him/her. You go to a doctor who tells you about the gravity of the situation, but refuses to give treatment as it is very risky. Exasperated, you go to another doctor who says the same thing. You wonder where the professional ethics of the doctors are. You think it is their duty to treat a patient, irrespective of the risks involved.
Luckily for you, you find a doctor who is ready to take the risk. S/He tells you about all the possible scenarios and the likely outcomes. You give the doctor a free hand to do whatever s/he deems fit. The doctor suggests an immediate operation, and you agree. Sadly, the operation is unsuccessful, and your family member does not make it. You and your relatives blame the doctor for recklessness. You think the doctor was incompetent or did the operation just for money. Some of your relatives not only beat the doctor and the nursing staff but also damage the hospital property, endangering other patients.
Now, imagine another scenario where your child – say, your daughter – is a doctor, and she is faced with a similar scenario involving a seriously ill patient. She is ready to take the risk, but you tell her to let go because of the slim chances of success. You fear your daughter may be attacked by the angry relatives of the patient if the treatment does not succeed, the chances of which are very high. You are scared for your daughter’s life, that she may face verbal or physical abuse, or could even get sued.
The above scenarios are two sides of the same coin. Every doctor is a human being first. S/He too has a family that cares just like the relatives of patients who do not make it.
The recent incident in Kolkata where the junior doctors of a government hospital were attacked by the angry relatives of a patient who died, was not the first or a one-off case. It’s a travesty that even after such an incident coming to light and the doctors going on a strike against it, there have been more incidents of violence against doctors. In fact, there was another such case in Pondicherry a few days back.
It is understandable that relatives of a patient who dies would be angry and sometimes even not in the right state of mind to be able to discern logic, but taking the law into one’s hands and resorting to violence can never be the solution. Also, just because some doctors are not true to their profession does not mean all doctors are not ethical. And, this in no way means that it would be okay to punish them all for the wrongs of some. If that was the right thing to do, how about beating up all men just because of the fact that a few of them rape women? Or, beating all senior students of a college just because a few of them ragged the juniors that lead to one of them committing suicide? This is preposterous by any stretch of the imagination.
There is a government, a judiciary and organisations like the Indian Medical Association in a country for a reason. If a patient or his/her relatives feel that they have been wronged, they can always file a case against the hospital. Let the experts take a call. A layman does not have the medical knowledge to be able to ascertain whether the doctor took the right medical decision or not, given the circumstances. And, if one does, then why go to a doctor in the first place? One can always treat oneself or one’s sick relatives on one’s own.
It takes all kinds of people to make this world. Just like there are honest people, there are dishonest ones; just like there are law-abiding citizens, there are law-breaking ones too; just like there are people who believe in peace, there are people who believe in violence; and so on. However, you may notice, the former categories far surpass the latter in numbers. The latter categories are just aberrations.
Unfortunately, there are doctors who are not true to their profession. Some cheat their patients for money or even conduct experiments on their patients. However, their numbers are small (though growing, it seems). Majority of the doctors are out there to treat their patients. Doctors do not wake up in the morning with a thought, “Let me target to kill three patients today.” It is as outrageous as it sounds.
It is a sad reality that many hospitals are run like private corporations and give monetary targets to their doctors. It is this that the government or the health ministry needs to look into. It is not that the doctors are happy with these targets. Having said this, I would still stand by my view that most doctors try their best to treat their patients and would never aim to kill anyone. We can accuse them of overcharging us, but not of trying to kill patients.
Doctors are not God. They do not have answers to all the medical problems. Many people are still researching about some diseases and medicines. It takes many more years of study to become a doctor than most other professions. Instead of painting all doctors with the same brush, let us be grateful that there are some people who choose this noble profession. Let us be thankful that in times of emergency, there is a doctor who comes running to our help even though s/he may be tied up with some personal event.
We all make mistakes. A writer makes spelling mistakes. A driver bangs the car while driving. A fire safety inspector misses an important safety hazard that can cause death. One can make the wrong financial investment that can lead to huge financial losses… These are all mistakes, not crimes. Similarly, doctors too can sometimes make mistakes. Each patient is unique and so is their diagnosis. Sometimes, at the operation table, the doctors have to take big decisions in a matter of seconds. They can go wrong. They can make mistakes even more so because of the long hours of working that many of them have to put in every day. So, let’s not expect them to act like superhumans with a 100 per cent success rate. Let’s get realistic.
I would like to end by sharing an anecdote. Where food is concerned, I love my mom’s preparations. However, on those rare occasions that she would be unable to whip up the same taste that I relish, I would point it out. Once when I complained and said that there was too much salt in the food and questioned how one can miss such a simple thing, my father said, “A person who works, will make a mistake. A person who does nothing, can never make one.” Obviously, I was left red-faced. I got the message loud and clear.
If only we all could agree that doctors are humans first and then doctors, hospitals would get safer again – for doctors, patients, and everybody else. To err is human. Simple!