Tens of thousands of people, specially poor patients, were forced to suffer more by a 24-hour token strike launched yesterday by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA). If strikes by medical officers are ethically or morally questionable the main reason for the GMOA strike yesterday was scandalous. The medical doctors were demanding the withdrawal of the 2016 budget proposals to scrap the issue of duty free vehicle permits every five years to medical and other senior public servants.
The government spends about Rs. 150 billion in public money every year to give these duty free vehicle permits. Reports over the past few years have indicated that top public servants and MPs who get these duty free vehicle permits every five years have created a huge racket where millions of rupees are being made in buying or selling vehicle permits.
As a compromise Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Wednesday that the national government, in view of strong protest by medical doctors and other top public servants, was ready to come to a consensus by giving duty free vehicle permits every ten years and only on two occasions. For most people and specially for four million people known to be struggling on or below the poverty line, this appears to be a just and fair compromise but not for medical doctors. It is a shame and a farce.
Our foremost duty as an independent newspaper is to be the voice of the voiceless people. On behalf of these poor suffering patients we wish to remind doctors of internationally accepted codes of ethics. If you have a conscience, let it speak to you now and if you have tears, shed them now.
The World Medical Association’s (WMA) International Code of Medical Ethics was updated by the 35th World Medical Assembly held at Venice in 1983. It says a physician shall always maintain the highest standards of professional conduct. He or she shall not permit motives of profit to influence the free and independent exercise of professional judgment on behalf of patients.
A physician in all types of medical practice, shall be dedicated to providing competent medical service in full technical and moral independence, with compassion and respect for human dignity. A physician shall deal honestly with patients and colleagues, and strive to expose those physicians deficient in character or competence, or who engage in fraud or deception.
According to this code of ethics a physician shall always bear in mind the obligation of preserving human life. A physician shall owe his or her patient’s complete loyalty and all the resources of his or her science. Whenever an examination or treatment is beyond the physician’s capacity he or she should call another physician who has the necessary ability.
A physician shall give emergency care as a humanitarian duty unless he or she is assured that others are willing and able to give such care.
According to the latest declaration adopted by WMA, every physician swears an oath like this at the time of being admitted as a member of the medical profession. These are excerpts:
“I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity; I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity; the health of my patients will be my first consideration (don’t laugh) ; I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession; I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from its beginning even under threat and I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity; I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.”
With various factors dragging a once noble vocation into a medical business, we would be justified in telling the striking doctors, “physicians heal thyselves”.