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Doctors who kill instead of cure

Patients' lives must never be allowed to become bargaining chips in political disputes

Father Nasir William at the grave site of his parishioner Tokeer in Peshawar Father Nasir William at the grave site of his parishioner Tokeer in Peshawar
  • Silent Thinker, Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • February 27, 2012
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This weekend I received a disturbing phone call from a priest who had a painful story to tell.

Father Nasir William lost Tokeer, a parishioner, after he received four gun shots from robbers who tried to snatch his motorcycle two weeks ago. But according to the priest it was the doctors, not the gangsters, who killed the 22-year-old.

“For one hour he pleaded for treatment. Eye witnesses said he begged on their feet but the medical authorities awaited the arrival of police (from a nearby post) and refused to handle the case,” said the principal of St Michelle’s school in Peshawar.

“He was dying as several relatives reached the government hospital. Finally the doctors submitted to protest but he died,” Fr William said, adding that the deceased was an only child and his wedding had been scheduled for the following day. There can be no justification for denying medical care to someone who knows he will die shortly.

I have heard that doctors take the Hippocratic Oath to practice medicine ethically. The doctors in Peshawar must have also taken that vow but what happened that night slashed all rhetoric of “saviors of mankind” and similar accolades, at least for this group.
Doctors’ strikes
Doctors refusing health care delivery is not a new phenomenon in the country. The Provincial Doctors Association was on strike for two days after the killing of a senior cardiologist in Peshawar last month.

Likewise services in Out Patient Departments (OPDs) of Lahore remained suspended for five days this month. The Young Doctors Association called strike after the arrest of senior doctors of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology allegedly involved in scandal.

Media reports say about 20,000 patients visit OPDs of public hospitals in Lahore every day. Government hospitals are usually preferred for their cheaper services. Sub-standard food and poor accommodations do not deter visitors from bringing their loved ones for treatment.

Twenty-two patients have died across Punjab province last year due to non-availability of doctors busy in similar strikes. A charter of demands can still be viewed on their website.
White collar movements
Young doctors are now emerging as a powerful force similar to the lawyer’s movement who has been advocating for the restoration of a sacked chief justice for two years. People started seeing hope in black-suited lawyers, which heralded a revolution and ended with a victory in 2009.

White collars taking mass protest movements into the streets emerged in opposition to dictatorship, with or without uniform, in the country. They had to leave their courts and wards to fight for rights as power players remain preoccupied in pursuit of ruling the country and ignoring the real issues. Struggle for rule of law continues to inspire both religious extremists and liberal fascists.

However something was lost in this new fight for rights – namely the ethics of professionalism. I deeply felt it after seeing lawyers showering rose petals on the assassin of slain governor Salman Taseer. The Lahore Bar Association now denies putting a ban on sales of Shezan soft drinks at its canteen. A Muslim lawyer had presided over the ban on products owned by an Ahmadi food company.

Doctors hold something much more than a lawyer can offer – the power of saving life. Tokeer was denied this opportunity on the night of February 10 because he had no legal necessities required for his life support.

“Whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he saved the life of all mankind,” says a well-known Quranic verse displayed in every non-Christian hospital in the country. Both religion and constitution safeguard human life; humanity is above all. A lawyer who denies justice is a criminal; a doctor who refuses to save a dying person is already dead.

Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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