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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2002

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Medical ethics

DR. K. ANANDAKANNAN, Vice Chancellor of the MGR Medical University, is reported to have rejected out of hand a recommendation by a group of eminent citizens to include a course on medical ethics in the curriculum, as some other reputed universities have done. His objection was that ethics as a subject will needlessly take time and energy away from more complex technical and professional courses falling within the purview of a medical university, besides adding to expenditure on additional faculty and attendant infrastructural facilities.

In any case, knowledge of principles of ethics, in his view, was something that did not require to be incorporated in a curriculum, as it is an integral part of the society's obligation to its members in their day-to-day life. These were not his exact words, but the pith and substance of his explanation for his negative response.

The entire patient community will be at one in wishing he were not so dismissive about the vital importance of instilling in the impressionable minds of young students at the earliest stage of preparing themselves for entry into a profession such as medicine a sense of awareness of their noble calling and their obligations for the well-being, happiness and peace of mind of the patients. Reinforcing this observation is the fact that reservations, extortionist capitation fees, corruption and other evils have vitiated the process of selection of students for admission into all categories of educational institutions.

Not all of them are fully versed in the values that are the bedrock of India's culture and civilisation. Some of them are so keen to get back the money they had to spend on exactions of various kinds that they turn into rank mercenaries subordinating the interests of the general public. Moreover, under the guise of secularism or `rationalism', the trend for schools nowadays is to dispense with classes on ethics or on the incomparable ancient heritage of the country. The result is that students enter professional colleges with little idea of the duty they owe as members of the society or the profession.

This is what explains instances such as the suspension on accusations of corruption of the President of Indian Medical Council, the most sacred responsibility that one can be entrusted with, in that his mission is nothing short of striving for the health of all in the country. Lack of proper grounding in ethics also accounts for the carelessness of surgeons which sometimes results in fatalities, and complaints about misbehaviour of doctors with patients and the indifference to their duties by doctors in government hospitals and public health centres.

The medical profession, in particular, is almost godly in nature. Patients hang anxiously on the lips of doctors, and a word of reassurance from them can lift their spirits and those of their relatives to an unimaginable extent. Indeed, a good doctor cures and heals more by his manners than by his medicine.

Will Dr. Anandakannan reconsider his stand in the light of these considerations?

B. S. Raghavan

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