Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Unhealthy society leads to bad medicine

By Kuo Hui-hsin 郭惠芯

On Nov. 1, Cathay General Hospital director Chen Kai-mo (陳楷模) lashed out at the medical profession for wasting medical resources and for having poor medical ethics, both of which seriously damage patients' rights. He criticized doctors for relying on costly examination equipment, and alleged that doctors encouraged patients -- and even pressured them -- to undergo unnecessary surgery. These charges have being widely aired. The criticism from within the profession and from such a senior level seems to underline the seriousness of the situation.

Chen also said that the Bureau of National Health Insurance's oversight is effectively redundant, as its insurance payment approval system is lax. Following his comments, a number of legislators demanded that the government "sweep away bad doctors, as well as legislators and medical groups that shield these doctors." In response, some of those in charge of medical centers immediately claimed that Chen was talking about individual cases, not describing the general situation. Department of Health officials said that they were strictly supervising the health insurance program and that doctors were complaining about the rigor with which they did so.

Let's put aside for now the issue of whether the problems are general or individual. I believe that the decline in medical ethics is a more serious issue than either poor oversight by the medical authorities or the greedy collusion of doctors. It has caused doctors and patients to lose respect for each other.

Throughout history, the medical profession has brimmed with the noble, humane spirit of those who wished to save the sick and the weak. Such nobility has disappeared as rationality and medical technology have come to be taken for granted. For every patient to expect doctors to treat their bodies with such reverence is simply asking too much. But it is reasonable for a patient to demand at the very least that doctors don't view their operating tables as slaughter houses.

Unfortunately, in modern society, where deep religious beliefs are absent, even that universal value is threatened.

In Taiwan, although Western medical treatment largely replaced traditional Chinese medicine only about a century ago, the superior position of doctors was quickly established because of the public's obsession with scientism and the policy of the Japanese colonial rulers of keeping the people uninformed or misinformed.

The mind has been forgotten, and patients are seen as material objects by the medical organizations. Our society has also lost the pure, simple respect for the existence of human life. When people respect others, it is for their fame or fortune. This being so, many doctors pay undue attention to the famous and the wealthy -- who they think deserve their respect -- and fail to see the preciousness of the lives of ordinary people.

This state of affairs is a contributing factor -- maybe even the primary factor -- in the decline of medical ethics.

It's almost impossible for the government to solve the above problem if it's partly caused by the lack of respect for human life in our culture. Perhaps we should begin with some minor moves. Chen's scathing criticism was based on his own experience. If the medical profession itself were to launch a "conscientious movement" inspired by its own experience, it could in turn inspire society.

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