Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Should doctors forget their oath?

It is day number 37 of the Doctor's (Young Doctor's Association) strike in Punjab province. They demand higher pay from the Government, and more benefits, and have refused to provide any OPD (out patient dept.) or Emergency services in Hospitals through out the province.
Almost 40-50 cases of death due to lack of medical help have been reported so far, (with actual figures much higher especially in rural areas). Other hospital staff, such as nurses and ward-boys have taken over this crucial role without having the skills and education needed. 
Today, I saw a man being interviewed on TV talking about the Doctor's strike. With tears in his eyes he explained how he had come from a far-away village to the Emergency dept. of a city hospital, only to be told there was no doctor on duty to help his 2 year old son. After 3 days of desperately asking for some medical care, he had to watch his child die. There are other similar stories. 
It seems all the doctors care about are their own demands. But what about their oath, their duty, to help humanity? Or is becoming a doctor only for financial/social respectability reasons? A doctor isn't just another person with a family, he is first and foremost the healer and the helper for those who are sick and needy. Have these doctors forgotten their oath?
I looked around on Google to find the famous Hippocratic Oath, and I found myself looking at another "debate" about whether it should be included in "ceremonies" or not, whether it offends somebody's religious beliefs, whether it is outdated, whether it's this or that or politically incorrect. This makes my heart sink. The essence of the medical profession, and the essence of this Oath, have been lost in this 'modern' socio-political jargon. 
So, today, the loss of human life from neglect is worth the financial gain of the striking doctors, just as the loss of the 'helping humanity spirit' is worth the political correctness and social relevance of a document. Such shame!

Here's a version of the Hippocratic Oath that I managed to find online. Maybe these doctors need to re-read what it says:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
-I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
-I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
-I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
-I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
-I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
-I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
-I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
-I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
-If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University.

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