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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20577

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.

 

Publication type: news

Nagarajan R
The patient doctor
The Times of India 2013 July 6
http://www.timescrest.com/coverstory/the-patient-doctor-10659


Full text:

Five years on, a Kerala physician is still fighting to uphold medical ethics.

Payyanur, a municipal town with a population of barely 70, 000 people in North Kerala, is the setting for a oneman battle to uphold medical code of ethics in the country. It started in the middle of 2008, with Dr K V Babu, an ophthalmologist, filing a complaint with the Medical Council of India (MCI) against the Indian Medical Association (IMA)‘s endorsement of products such as Quaker Oats and Tropicana Juice of Pepsico and Odomos cream, gel and lotion of Dabur India. Five years later, the case is still dragging on before the ethics committee of the MCI.

According to Dr Babu, the IMA endorsing a product means an indirect endorsement by him since he is a member and this was unacceptable. “Plus, it is unethical according to the MCI regulations. “ However, as the case drags on he says, “I never imagined the case would take this long. A complaint to the state medical council is to be resolved in six months. I thought, at best it would take one year. “ Since the complaint was against a national organisation and the endorsement decision was taken by a committee comprising doctors from across the country, Dr Babu complained to the MCI.

The IMA, the largest and most powerful doctors’ association with over 2.15 lakh doctors as its members, did not take kindly to the complaint, which would lead to the loss of crores of rupees the association earned from such endorsements. It retaliated by seeking to expel him. However, Dr Babu resisted his expulsion, complaining to the MCI that he was being harassed for upholding medical ethics as he is duty bound to do.

With the case dragging on for years, wouldn’t it have been easier to simply resign from the IMA? “To resign would be to surrender before people indulging in wrongdoing. I did not want that and so I decided to fight on, “ says Dr Babu. However, he might still resign after the case is won. “But I will not allow them to expel me for being law-abiding. It is lawbreakers who ought to be expelled, not those who uphold the law. “

Even the MCI, mandated to regulate the medical profession, has been dragging its feet rather than helping an individual doctor’s struggle to uphold its own Code of Medical Ethics Regulations 2002. Till the middle of 2010, MCI maintained that IMA was not within its jurisdiction and hence took no action. It took several RTI applications and letters to everyone in the health ministry, the chief information commissioner and even the National Human Rights Commission to get the MCI to examine the case again. MCI claimed it could only take action against individual doctors but not against doctors’ associations. Dr Babu promptly sent a complaint to MCI again, naming individual doctors, 187 members of the Central Working Committee of the IMA who decided on the endorsement and sought action against them. Finally, by August 2010 MCI announced that IMA was within its jurisdiction and sent show-cause notices to IMA.

MCI stopped the IMA endorsements and removed the names of the national president of IMA, Dr G Samaram, and secretary Dr Dharam Praksh, for six months and censured 61 members of the IMA executive. However, on the issue of Dr Babu’s threatened expulsion they initially refused to intervene saying it was between a member and his association. Dr Babu then complained to the health ministry regarding harassment by IMA and the ministry prompted MCI to take up the issue. Since then, MCI has summoned Dr Babu and IMA office bearers in Kerala several times for hearings. So far, none of the IMA office bearers have appeared for any of the hearings. Dr Babu has appeared twice before the MCI ethics committee flying from Kerala to Delhi each time at his own expense. “It has cost me over Rs 50, 000. But after having fought for so long, it would be a pity to give up. If I give up it would discourage doctors from speaking up against unethical and illegal practices, “ says Dr Babu.

 

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What these howls of outrage and hurt amount to is that the medical profession is distressed to find its high opinion of itself not shared by writers of [prescription] drug advertising. It would be a great step forward if doctors stopped bemoaning this attack on their professional maturity and began recognizing how thoroughly justified it is.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963