When Doctors became Murderers

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Content advisory 14+ Does this title confuse? Well, if you are an Indian, it shouldn’t. For the past few years, the Indian public has increasingly turned against professionals in the medical profession, largely at the instigation of the rabble-rousing media, whose portrayal of the so-called incompetence of Indian doctors has ignited widespread fear and hostility toward them, the very people who stand by the public in the times of need.

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It must be said, however, that some of the complaints are reasonable. It all started, I believe, with the scams of private hospitals and nursing homes charging atrocious amounts of money to their patients and residents. Then these very same institutions began hunting for doctors who were willing to prescribe certain medicines in exchange for additional cash, and who often adjoined themselves either contractually or informally to the pharmacies, thus creating a dual business. This is known as ‘profiteering’, and it amounts to deceiving and cheating the public. There were even some who were involved in an organ-selling racket. On more than one occasion, there were patients who died, not in spite of the doctors’ best efforts, but precisely due to their incompetence, callousness, or downright negligence.

And yes of course these abuses of privilege and power are terrible (for doctors DO have enormous power over our lives). Some medics are blinded by money and choose the wrong path. Some, as in Russia, are lacking in terms of their actual qualifications. But this kind of bogus activity exists in every profession, and such negative factors should never blind us to the genuine heroism of doctors who work long hours throughout the day and spend sleepless nights serving their fellow citizens.

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Whatever the case, the public perception has changed and many people have lost the respect they once held for medical professionals. It does not stop them from coming to the doctors for treatment, but they have started questioning their methods and have become especially suspicious of the prescriptions they are given for medicine from the pharmacy. Armed with the knowledge gleaned from 30 minutes spent surfing medical sites on the internet, they have started to fancy themselves doctors in their own right and to question the caregiver at every turn.

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It is said that MBBS (Doctor of Medicine and Surgery) is the toughest course out there. Medical students spend countless sleepless nights going through huge volumes covering as many as nineteen subjects while simultaneously attending to patients at wards. For many of these professionals, being a doctor is not just a job, it is a calling, a sacred trust. While it is only natural to be curious about your illness, how insulting is it to a doctor who has had years of experience to be doubted and even interrogated by a patient who brings to the table only half-learnt, unverified knowledge? But more importantly, how can you justify beating up a doctor just because a patient has died, irrespective of the cause of death? Yes indeed, some doctors have been subjected to violence from irate patients or their families.

People come to the doctor expecting to be cured of every disease and to save each and every life. Only a doctor knows the stakes riding on his decisions and he makes each and every strategic choice accordingly, even when he has to attend to a hundred patients in a day. Interns and junior doctors are often on 48 hours shifts, and even with the best of intentions, mistakes do happen. But why should they be sent to the guillotine for one error after having saved a thousand other lives?

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I see people coming to the OPD, men who have smoked for thirty years and women who have chewed tobacco for decades, arriving with lung cancer and various forms of oral-related cancer and asking the doctor, “Doctor babu, thik hoye jabo toh?” (Doctor, I will be alright, right?)

Recently, a friend of mine contacted me, concerned about his sister who has been recently diagnosed with PCOD. Here is how the conversation went.

HE: Hey, I need to ask you something. I am really worried. My sister has recently been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOD), I am really worried. Tell me what will happen to her, they aren’t telling me anything.
ME: It’s nothing to worry about. PCOD is really common among women nowadays owing to the unhealthy lifestyle we lead.
HE: But it’s a disease, it’s a cyst, so it is not good.
ME: No, it is not good. But it is not anything serious either. Ask her to go to a gynecologist and do whatever she has been asked to.
HE: What about complications from the cyst? I read on the internet that a lot of problems can arise. Will she have problems during pregnancy?
ME: There is a possibility. There are certain complications which might arise like …. (won’t bore you with those), but they are very rare
HE: You are saying that there is a chance of complications, but there is no definite treatment for it? What are the doctors doing?
ME: Look, medical researchers are always working towards find a cure for every illness. Usually, PCOD is cured by lifestyle modification and taking certain hormonal drugs. Ask her to do whatever the gynecologist prescribes.
HE: Yes, the doctor was even telling something like that…
ME: Yes, ask her to stop taking unhealthy/junk food and exercise regularly
HE: Thing is, she is young, only 25 years old and junk food is tasty. She won’t be able to enjoy her life like this.
ME: does not reply

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This conversation is just an example of the usual attitude of the population. Doctors are trying day and night to save lives. In the process, they should not have to worry about their own. They should not have to stress about being charged as criminals while prescribing medicine. And certainly, don’t paint them as murderers because of something that is your own fault or someone else’s. They are only human.

Having said all this in defense of doctors, however, the argument could indeed me made that in some ways the medical profession has brought its troubles upon itself. After all, those to whom much is given, much is expected. Doctors hold a high and special status in every society around the globe without exception; it is not surprising that when they betray this trust -- as they have done on many occasions in India -- the public response is to be outraged and become cynical.

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India struggles daily with massive over-population and in the cities the air is foul and poisonous. For every nouveau-riche silicon valley type or Bollywood star, there are literally millions subsisting on the brink of a great chasm. In India we are lucky to be blessed with doctors of whom the vast majority struggle every day to climb the awesome mountains placed in front of them. Some are mediocre, a few are terrible. Many are good and some are great. That’s life. They do their best to preserve the lives they are entrusted to sustain.


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