Doctors’ Professional Ethics

Narayan Upadhyay

The recent implementation of the Criminal Code has doctors and medical professionals up in arms against the government authority. The doctors and medical professionals have contended that some clauses of the newly launched penal code has gone against the health profession as they portray the doctors of the country as criminals, eligible for jail terms and fines for committing any mistake while discharging their duty, albeit honestly and diligently. As a show of their professional camaraderie, the doctors of affiliated to the Nepal Medical Council not only shut down health services for a day but also submitted their working licenses en masse to the medical council to protest against the clauses included in the new penal code.

They had threatened to shut down all hospitals and health centre across for indefinite period if their demand of removing these clauses is not heeded by the government authority. The doctors have called off the agitation after the Health Ministry agreed to meet their criminal code as demanded by the doctors.
It appears that doctors’ threat of indefinite shutdown has compelled the Health Ministry to find an amicable solution to end the doctors’ protest. After the ministry told the doctors that it would take up the measures to remove the clauses, the doctors suspended their protest for the time being but have warned that they would shut down the health services at all hospitals and health centre indefinitely unless their demands are addressed. Many have criticised the doctors for shutting the health centres because of the suffering of the patients who needed treatment. The closure of the health centres by the doctors has gone against their professional ethics.
The doctors of the country, many of whom are often criticised for negligence, recklessness and for greediness felt a chill when the new penal code came into effect on August 17, this year. Many provisions in the Criminal Code clearly state doctors who are found guilty of recklessness and negligence in treating the patients could face jail term and a fine or both. Those who are engaged in the health profession without having proper license or permission from the higher authority could face life term and fine if the patients receiving treatment from the doctors without license or permission die or suffer damage to their body owing to their negligence or recklessness in treating.
The new provisions, according the protesting doctors, have sent fear among the doctors, which can actually lead to several shortcomings in the treatment of patients. In the meantime, the agitating health professionals have contended that the doctors can be put behind bars even when they are discharging their duty honestly and diligently. They say a patient can die while receiving treatment due to complications. Therefore the doctors must not be held guilty for the occurrences of such incidents. Therefore, the doctors have urged the government the “anti-health professions” clauses should be replaced with pro profession provisions.
Despite the ongoing protest, several of doctors have been accused and held accountable to their ill intention and negligence while treating patients at their hospitals or private health institutions. There are plenty of incidents in which patients have lost their life due to negligence on the part of attending doctors, nurses as well the hospitals, both governments and private health institutions.
We often come across the incidents in which the relatives of the patients accuse the doctors and hospitals for negligence in treating the patients. The relatives have attacked the doctors and nurses and have vandalised hospitals demanding fair inquiry into the death of their patients and demanding fair compensation for the death of their relatives. Doctors and hospitals, mainly private health centre are frequently found paying the compensation to the relatives in their attempt to resolve the problems emanating from negligence and recklessness of their doctors that cause the death of a patients.
Even the renowned private hospitals known for charging exorbitant fees to patients even for treatment of minor ailments are accused of their ever increasing avarice that frequently drive them to play with the life of a patient. We have plenty of incidents in which patients suffering form minor ailment or requiring a simple surgery have died in course of receiving expensive treatment.
The provisions of the new penal code have indeed tried to address the persisting anomalies of our health sector. A doctor must not be allowed to revel in his negligence, and recklessness as they often put the life of a patient at high risk. In the meantime, inefficient health professionals and those who work as doctors on basis of counterfeit certificates must be handed over due punishment and fine. The legal actions against them surely act as a deterrent.
Apart from negligence and recklessness, greediness is another major problem in many of our doctors. Several doctors are accused of working to make fast buck without caring for the well-being of a patient. There is a tendency among several of our doctors associated with the government hospitals to ask the patients to visit them in their private clinics. With an eye on heavy commissions, these doctors recommend the patients to go to special laboratories or imaging or x-ray centres. The doctors often prescribed medicines produced or distributed by certain companies or distributors. All these tendencies hint at the deepening greediness of many of our doctors and health professions. This, on the turn, forces a patient to receive health services at higher cost.
The health professionals who deviate from their duty of providing swift and effective health services to the needy patients must be brought to the book. Because, if they are allow to remain free even if they commit negligence, they will give a bad name to the country’s health profession..
However, the laws must be efficient to differentiate between genuine health services and health services bordering on negligence and recklessness. It is true sometimes doctors may err even when s/he provides services with honesty. Such mistakes should not be counted as serious crimes and doctors should be spared of receiving punishment. The government must be aware of this fact and should try to incorporate some elements in the new penal code to protect those who are genuinely honest in giving their services to needy patients.

The clauses related to the health profession, which have brought fake doctors, negligence and recklessness of doctors under the domain of punishment and fines, do suggest that the medical professionals must always be aware of their professional ethics and duty, which demand professional honesty, commitment and diligence. No doctor should take benefit of their position to play with the life of a patient. If they do, the laws should always be there to take care of them.

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