On March 16 more than a 1000 doctors from hospitals across the city of Bangalore came together in a rare show of solidarity for a common cause: the freedom to practice medicine fearlessly. More than the obvious, the protest spotlighted the relentlessly trying circumstances in which doctors work virtually round the clock through their lives—a fact that’s largely disregarded in public discourse.
Unlike every other profession, doctors are expected to be on ‘call’ at all times and give precedence to patient care ahead of even their most compelling personal pressures. Small things like a morning walk, a good night’s sleep or regular meals are often denied to them and the concept of fixed working hours simply does not exist. And as a part of their work doctors are routinely exposed to viruses and infections that would be on the ‘must-avoid’ list of everyone else. Still, the sheer satisfaction of providing the healing touch and saving lives is what keeps us going.
The supreme oath-bound duty of a doctor is to fight for the lives of their patients regardless of how hopeless a case might seem. They must fight and fight with all their might till the last breath. But can they do this effectively if they have the fear of violence clouding their minds? Of late there has been a growing incidence of violence targeted at doctors and hospitals from relatives of patients who may succumb to their illnesses in hospitals. Such violence happens despite a law that provides special protection to the fraternity.
Doctors have never asked for special laws: what we really want is strict enforcement of basic laws against violence that applies to everyone. It is the duty of every citizen to help doctors do their work fearlessly and under as little stress as possible. The fear that an adverse result from a course of treatment may lay them open to acts of violence or vandalism could mar a doctor’s judgement, which would obviously be against the interests of critically ill or injured patients. Also, if this trend is not curbed then doctors may be tempted to opt for the soft recourse of not treating complex cases where the chances of survival are extremely low. This would be a really sad development. Personally, I have campaigned for more than a decade and a half for advanced medical emergency and pre-hospital care services to save critically ill patients and accident victims. Such initiatives can hardly thrive in a climate of fear.
In this fight not just for medical professionals but for the rights of the entire patient community it is important for doctors from all specializations to stand together. It is equally important to sensitize the society to the nature of the medical profession and the enormous stress and strain under which doctors work every day of their lives in their endeavour to combat disease and death. In this context, the media and the entertainment industries have a key role to play: it is repugnant for popular cinema or TV shows to abuse facts pertaining to the profession and its practice in order to earn cheap popularity. Such a portrayal brings the entire profession to regrettable disrepute and serves to embolden elements which engage in violence. When the Censor Board reviews films it must not confine itself to looking for and removing scenes of obscenity or excessive violence but must also wield its scissors on factual inaccuracies and distortions pertaining to the medical profession.