‘From the sidelines’: Oath of Hypocrites | Sunday Observer

‘From the sidelines’: Oath of Hypocrites

This week, the government announced the appointment of Prof Colvin Gunaratne as President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), the professional body that regulates the conduct of doctors in the country. This was after a lapse of three months during which the position was vacant following the retirement of Carlo Fonseka at the age of 84.

The first reaction to Gunaratne’s appointment? The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) is up in arms, protesting and threatening sinister steps, claiming that Gunaratne is an individual who supports the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), the institution now at the centre of a controversy over private medical education.

And lo and behold, Fonseka also adds to the cacophony, joining the protest against Gunaratne’s appointment. Fonseka served with Gunaratne for many years in the Department of Physiology at the Colombo Medical Faculty, and, just as at the SLMC, it was Gunaratne who succeeded him, when he retired - but Fonseka, the self-proclaimed epitome of the most principled human being, would have us believe that this is nothing personal!

What of the GMOA’s stance? The government has already offered what appears to be a reasonable solution to the SAITM issue.

The GMOA’s initial demand was that all it sought to do was to ensure that the standards of medical education are maintained and that the quality of doctors produced in the country remained high.

Towards that end, the government has proposed what appear to be reasonable measures. It has taken over the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital. It has proposed that SAITM be run as a non-profit organisation by a board of management where the state will be a significant stakeholder. It has also proposed minimum standards for medical education which, rightly, will apply not only to SAITM but to all state medical schools as well.

However, the GMOA is not happy. It insists on its pound of flesh: it wants SAITM abolished, because it wants to shut the door on private medical education in Sri Lanka, forever.

This is the same GMOA which sees nothing wrong with all other forms of private education: private schools and international schools, private tutories, even private universities providing courses of study other than Medicine.

This is also the same GMOA that doesn’t complain about hundreds of students leaving the country to study Medicine overseas, in conditions that could be far more dubious than those at SAITM. About these, the GMOA couldn’t care less.

Ah, yes, there is the familiar GMOA argument: medical education is ‘special’ because it deals with people’s lives. So, it is not something to be taken lightly.

But, if this is really what the GMOA is fighting for, and if the government can develop measures that ensure that standards are maintained - as it has now proposed with SAITM - the GMOA should be agreeable. But like hell, they are not! That is why they’re getting their knickers in a twist even with issues such as the appointment of the President of the SLMC.

If the GMOA is really interested in the standards of the medical practice, they should look at what their own members are doing under cover of ‘private practice’. They should investigate how doctors see more than a dozen patients within an hour, sometimes writing their prescription as soon as the patient walks in the door.

They should inquire into how doctors charge exorbitant fees at private hospitals, with absolutely no regulation - and without the tax man knowing about it either.

Ah, but the GMOA has other things to do - such as ‘protecting innocent patients’ from private medical education, staging strikes when their duty-free permits are not given and demanding the special privilege of having their children admitted to Royal College or Visakha Vidyalaya, just because the parent happens to be a doctor!

Let us face reality, shall we? The GMOA’s struggle against SAITM is no longer about protecting medical education and ‘innocent patients’ as they claim. It is now a political battle and a rallying point for all anti-government forces.

That is why the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna is aiding and abetting the GMOA. That is why the Joint Opposition, despite its leader Mahinda Rajapaksa actively encouraging SAITM and making a grant of 600 million rupees towards it when he was in power, is now against it.

That is also why the GMOA - which was a purring pussy cat when Rajapaksa was at the helm is now engaging in verbal pyrotechnics.

So, when the GMOA tries to tell the government who it should appoint as head of the SLMC, it is clearly overstepping its mark - that is a prerogative of the government and the Minister of Health. And, it is not as if the Minister of Health appointed Mervyn Silva to head the SLMC; he has appointed Colvin Gunaratne, an Emeritus Professor of the Colombo University.

Arguably, Gunaratne is more qualified to head the SLMC than Anuruddha Padeniya is qualified to head the GMOA - and we can bet our last rupee that Gunaratne didn’t try to admit his children to Royal College by changing his name and address!

These actions of the GMOA remind us of another organization lead by a megalomaniac who thought he was all-powerful and invincible, an organization which made demand after demand, which also used the well being of the citizens they claimed to protect as their bargaining tool, had the government yielding more and more-until the government said, enough is enough, and decided to decimate that organization - which it did.

Yes, we are referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). If it is not careful, the same fate could befall the GMOA, because public opinion is already turning against doctors in general, and the GMOA in particular.

It is time for those doctors who still aspire to uphold the noble ideals of their profession to speak up against the GMOA.

It is also time for the government to call the GMOA’s bluff and resolve the SAITM issue promptly without dragging its feet anymore -because thousands of young people, both at SAITM and also in state medical schools - are wasting the best years of their lives while this dispute drags on.

The time has finally come to let the cat out of the bag: the GMOA subscribes to the Oath of Hypocrites- and not the Oath of Hippocrates, who must surely be turning in his grave every time the GMOA takes to the streets! 


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