Thu, Oct 04, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: We can do better than Kao Ta-cheng

The news that coroner Kao Ta-cheng (高大成) was elected by his peers last week to be convener of the Taiwan Medical Association's Ethics and Discipline Committee would not normally be enough to raise eyebrows.

But Kao was one of 12 doctors from Taichung Veterans General Hospital who in 2005 made public Taichung Mayor Jason Hu's (胡志強) medical records in the build-up to that year's local government elections and declared Hu unfit to continue holding office.

Thankfully, this astonishingly contemptible tactic, aimed at helping the campaign of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, failed to have any effect on the election, but it certainly acted as an eye-opener for those of us who had hoped that doctors were one sector of this society that could be trusted implicitly.

Physicians in Taiwan -- like their counterparts in other countries -- are required to take the Hippocratic Oath, a pledge to uphold the ethics of their profession.

But as so often here, adherence to moral codes and recognized standards of behavior seem to go out the window when there is an advantage to be gained over a rival.

Kao's actions, along with those of the other 11 doctors, were repugnant and a flagrant violation of doctor-patient confidentiality.

A medical disciplinary committee later ordered an unapologetic Kao to attend a 16-hour medical ethics course. Prosecutors, however, surprisingly ruled that in this case it was legitimate for the doctors to pursue a political agenda. Citing a lack of evidence, the prosecutors decided not to indict the 12, even though the medical records they revealed were deemed to be genuine.

Kao's judgment was called into question again last year when the Apple Daily revealed that he had visited motels in the company of two different women, neither of them his wife and one of them a 20-year-old college student.

A person's personal life should not be employed to damage his or her professional career under normal circumstances. But a person who has been elected to lead an ethics committee -- someone who would make decisions that define practices and codes of behavior for others -- should have a solid track record, both professional and personal.

One must also question the mindset of the physicians who elected Kao to this position. Were they unaware of his misdeeds, or did they simply ignore his history and hope that no one would notice? More to the point, is Taiwan's medical profession so devoid of physicians with scruples that Kao was the best available candidate?

If that is the case, then one can only despair.

Kao may normally be a fine, upstanding member of the medical community, but his actions two years ago showed that by any ethical standard he is unfit to practice medicine, let alone serve on a committee whose job is to promote the image of the country's medical care.

The Taipei Medical Association's Web site states the purpose of its ethics committee is to "collect articles and publications on subjects related to medical ethics, enhance medical morals and change the public's and media's impression of the medical field."

With Kao on board, the Taiwan Medical Association is going to have an extremely difficult task ahead of it.

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