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Doctors' code of silence.

By Hend Fayez Abuenein IN 1998 I had an operation in my abdomen; in 2004, a surgeon saved me from excruciating abdominal pain that he said was caused by overstress! Since I'm a firm believer in the strong bond between body and soul, I naE[macron]vely believed him. But later, I learned from the anesthetist that what almost killed me was an old rubber ring found in my abdomen. My near-death had nothing to do with overstress, but the good doctor did make use of his knowledge of the stressful life I led at the time, to find a comprehendible explanation to my case. He didn't tell me the truth about the first doctor's misconduct, and he also puzzled me by not knowing that doctor. Medical circles are full of stories about people who are suffering the consequences of medical errors. One of the most shocking is of an obstetrician who boasts among his colleagues of how he always tells expectant mothers two weeks before their due date that the umbilical cord looks coiled around the baby's neck. This way, the mother would readily concede to a c-section on her due date, out of fear for the baby's life. And what's in it for the doctor? Well, a c-section delivery triples his fee; it takes much less time to cut, fetch, then sew shut again, than it does to wait by the mother in labor; and it's obviously less tedious, since the time he has to spend by the soon-to-be mom is taken from his clinic time. It goes without saying that the source of this particular information refused to name the doctor for me, since she too is in the medical field. And when I asked her if she warns his patients against his ill-ways, she said, "No!" The irony of the "code of silence" in the medical circles is that it boils down to what medics believe to be "ethics of the practice". When simpletons like me think that medical ethics stem from upholding the human life as the most precious of gifts, some doctors seemingly believe it unethical to squeal about the wrong doing of another that could impair or even take the lives of innocent people, regardless of their personal judgment about whether the wrong done was mere human error, an act of negligence, or premeditated misconduct. They will not blow the whistle, not even if by doing so they could stop more wrong from being done to innocent, unknowing victims. They just keep their heads down and say nothing. And if it happens that you consult with a doctor after being victimized by another, he will never give you a straight-forward answer as to whether it could've been prevented, not even if you ask him "will you have done the same?" He'll probably say something like: "I'm sure your doctor acted to the best of his knowledge"! So what's at stake if a doctor blows that whistle? We all know that a squealer ends-up the outcast. But the actual harm of being cast out of some medical circle does not justify that a doctor deprive a patient of his/her right to sue, (given of course that the medical responsibility bill will be passed in the Parliament, fingers crossed).. Since the judicial system works, the questioning will not necessarily mean smearing of the doctor's reputation unless he/she is found guilty of negligence or intentional misconduct, which in effect will uphold human life as a great gift. Doctors should know that what goes around comes around, and the good of questioning their conduct will only mean better health care for their own as well as the whole community. This not a personal issue. It is a profession-wide conspiracy to allow the wrong-doers to go unpunished. It is true that error is human, but silence against this unintentional erring gradually makes it a habit not to pay due diligence in the medical practice. Medicine is the profession of making human life safer and better, but the code of silence helps undo what the practice aims to do.

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Aug 25, 2008
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