Denying dignity in death sparks outrage in doctors fraternity

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on April 21, 2020

Doctors in Prayagraj protest against the attack on medics at various places during coronavirus inspection (file photo)   -  -

“I don’t think the medical profession is considered noble any more,” says an emotional note from Dr Narmada Ashok, informing colleagues across the country of the death of Dr Simon Hercules and the horrific incidents that followed, when it came to his burial.

Dr Simon, the 55 year-old Managing Director of New Hope Hospital, died from Covid-19 infection. His burial was disrupted at two cemeteries in Chennai by mobs who allegedly beat up those involved with the burial attempts, including the ambulance driver. Finally, Dr Pradeep “drove the ambulance wearing the PPE (personal protective equipment) and buried Dr Simon with his own hands,” recounts Dr Narmada, Secretary, Indian Medical Association (IMA-Vellore).

Having worked with Dr Simon for about seven years and having buried him just days ago, a traumatised Dr Pradeep says, “This should not happen to even my enemy.” With two ward boys, and a policeman, Dr Pradeep buried Dr Simon close to midnight.

Addressing fears of people that infection spreads from dead bodies, Dr Pradeep clarifies, there is a protocol covering the cremation or (deep) burial of an infected person at about 12 feet.

“The virus is very fragile and disintegrates with soap and water. It cannot live in a dead body for more than two hours,” he said. “Just as people are afraid, doctors are afraid too,” he said, adding that no one wants to lose their life or harm anyone.

There have been three instances in just a week where doctors who succumbed to Covid, acquired while doing their duty, were denied a burial, says Dr Ravi Wankhedkar, treasurer with the World Medical Association.

“Humanity is dying and needs resuscitation,” he says, adding that there was no dignity even after death. Instead of giving these doctors the status of martyr, they were being ostracised, he said.

The martyr status

The Odisha government on Tuesday said it would accord doctors the martyr status. Tamil Nadu too has made arrests in connection with the violence involved in Dr Simon’s burial and assured it would not happen again, says Dr Narmada, wondering however, how this could be implemented on the ground.

Responding to what may have triggered the violence, she counters, “ask people what makes otherwise peace loving people so anti-social”. People who are generally hospitable turn violent, possibly due to pent up frustration, she adds.

With healthcare bills pushing people into debt, she says, there is distrust against doctors.

And on Covid, people choose to listen to the bad news and not the fact that 98 per cent people recover from the illness. Violence against doctors has been reported from across the country in various forms, be it abuse, spitting and pelting of stones or denial of entry to societies and residential accommodation.

The proposed law punishing those who perpetuate violence against doctors, still hangs fire.

The IMA has warned of retaliation if cremations are obstructed. “If the Governments do not have power to stop such incidents they lose their moral right to govern,” a statement said.

Doctors are rendering services at extreme risk to themselves, the IMA said, adding, “No nation sends its army to war without weapons.” Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers are fighting Covid-19 without PPEs and dying in the process, it added.

The IMA has called for a “black day” protest on April 23 when doctors will work with black badges.

Published on April 21, 2020

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