Hippocratic Oath- How Binding Can It Be?

Posted on March 11, 2011 in Specials


By Srishti Chauhan:

Every time doctors in any part of the country go on strike the first thing they get to hear is how they are flouting the Hippocratic oath that they took to save lives no matter what came their way and practice their professions in the noblest manner possible.

When doctors in Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi went on a strike to demand for greater measures in security there were many writers and journalists who censured them with all their might- going to the extent of calling them pretentious and hollow.

As a prelude, people do need to know what happened at Safdarjung Hospital in order to know the plight of the doctors. A patient, who was suffering from dengue, succumbed to death after being under the treatment of a doctor for about 1 week. The patient’s relatives beat the doctor, accusing him of being negligent and refusing to believe that the patient indeed did die of severe dengue. The doctors, post this wretched incident, filed an application to the Medical Superintendent demanding more security for the doctors. Failing to take any notice whatsoever of the lack of security of lives of the doctors, the request was ignored. 2 months later when a similar incident repeated itself, the doctors chose to bring it to the notice of the authorities by going on strike. Who can blame a doctor if he wants a life of security? Being a doctor does not snatch away from him the right to safety of one’s life.

There are many arguments to whether doctors should be allowed to go on strike or not because their strikes pose a risk to the lives of patients.

The question which arises here is whether or not, is it acceptable to expect of doctors – more than double of what you expect of people with other professions. When the people of a marginalized community in Gujarat chose to disrupt the entire railway and other public transport system of the region, the furor was not about how shallow the protesters are and how crude it was for them to disturb the lives of other people by jeopardizing the administration of the area. It was about what they are demanding and how fair or unfair their demands were.

Is it too much of a demand to want some personal security? Is it THAT unfair?

One modus operandi that doctors have sometimes resorted to is to take over the administrative system of the hospital concerned and alienate the authorities from controlling the functioning till the time their demands- which generally range from security to better availability of medical setup- are met. The doctors in many government hospitals all over the country- from Rajasthan to Delhi- have tried this and most have had high court orders against them saying that if this was tried again they will face individual charges in relation to contempt of authorities as well as the judicial system.

What choice is left to the doctors? If they choose to keep mum and do their duties as expected, they are taken for granted and assaulted in the hands of agitated patients who fail to understand that doctors are life-savers and not life-granters.

A person who already practices the third more dangerous profession in the world does not need such external agencies to make his job tougher and more inconvenient.

Not only the thanklessness of the job, but the lack of heed by the authorities shall deter future doctors who may have been thinking of serving the country by rendering their skills in the health set up offered by the government. Providing more services in the form of salaries, security, updated medical instruments, more manpower and better perks, the government can lure more doctors to public health sector in order to improve its grimy and substandard condition.

Not realizing how far reaching the consequences of this lack of concern may be on the public health system in the future, the authorities are paving way to more brain drain and inclination towards privatization in the health sector. Brain drain will lead to a subsequent shortage of good doctors in the country while privatization will make health facilities unattainable for the 54% people who exist below poverty line in our country.

It is high time the government takes notice and does something to alleviate the problems of the medical practitioners-if not for making their jobs more appealing, then only to save the future of the public health sector. If not, then the value of human lives is set to dip as private sectors do not function for social welfare. Health will become another commodity too expensive to attain for the underprivileged.