Sat, Aug 26, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Mischievous doctors off the hook

One of the more disgraceful episodes in the last local government elections saw a group of doctors from Taichung Veterans General Hospital call a press conference and declare that Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) was unfit to continue holding office, and displayed his medical records to "prove" their point. They did not do this out of concern for the mayor's health, though some may protest otherwise; it was actually because they opposed the former foreign minister in his re-election bid.

This betrayal of ethics and basic decency was compounded when Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) figureheads -- including President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), to his shame -- jumped on the claims by the 12 doctors, who included a DPP legislator, to try to salvage an insipid campaign by the DPP's candidate, former Government Information Office minister Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍).

Hu appropriately filed suit against the doctors, and this week Taichung prosecutors announced that the case would not be pursued, citing lack of evidence, and that it was legitimate for the doctors to pursue a political agenda in this case. They admitted, however, that the records that were presented by the doctors were genuine.

It is extraordinary that prosecutors dismissed the case on the basis that there was no proof of connections between these doctors and the doctors who treated Hu. In any other context, the sale or use of stolen goods is a crime, and it is not necessary that the link between the original theft and the subsequent use of material be made for a crime to be established. When it is medical records that are misappropriated, it seems, things are different.

Some of the doctors have responded to the decision with relief but also something considerably less than contrition, maintaining that holders of higher office should be subjected to medical checks, and other such nonsense. It is clear that the professional punishments that the doctors received have not sunk in and that the most important thing is to save face.

The grisly truth is that hospital administrators around the country have been tarnished by this decision, and they will need to be vigilant in order that similarly ill-motivated doctors, nurses or other staff do not compromise patient privacy in future. Based on the Taichung case, those who steal or misuse medical records for political purposes all of a sudden can avoid prosecution because legal technicalities appeal to some parts of the justice system more than conducting professional investigative work.

In the interest of Taichung readers, it is appropriate that these doctors be named for the record. They are: DPP Legislator Lin Chin-hsing (林進興), Kao Chia-chun (高嘉君), Chang Shih-san (張士三), Lin Yi-lung (林義龍), Tsai Wen-jen (蔡文仁), Lin Heng-li (林恆立), Kao Ta-cheng (高大成), Chang Ping-tsao (張評造), Chien Chia-yu (簡佳裕), Huang Chuan-fu (黃全福), Luo Lun-yin (羅倫檭) and Chen Wan-teh (陳萬得).

Hu deserves praise for considerable grace under fire on a matter so close to his mortality. The doctors -- who by any ethical standard have shown themselves to be unfit to practice medicine -- exploited his misfortune to make a political point that in itself was a repugnant slur against every person who has had a serious illness.

Yet Hu has declared he will not pursue the matter, asking instead that the medical profession desist from such behavior. If only more of our mediocre politicians displayed such leadership.

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