Tue, May 06, 2003 - Page 2 News List

A view from inside: life under quarantine

Wu Shuh-min, president of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan, is a doctor at Jen Chi Hospital, which was sealed off because several cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) were discovered there. Wu talked by telephone from quarantine at Taoyuan Veterans Hospital with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Melody Chen about medical ethics, the role of the media, life under quarantine and the arrival of World Health Organization (WHO) officials

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wu Shuh-min, president of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan, stressed that being quarantined is a social responsibility.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

Taipei Times: The positive and dark sides of human nature were revealed when Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital was sealed off because of an outbreak of SARS. What do you think of medical morals of those doctors and nurses who ran away? How could they make impartial decisions when they knew living up to their responsibilities means putting their own lives at risk?

Wu Shuh-min (吳樹民): My feeling is that the media has somewhat distorted the situation in Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital. I think the procedures used to seal off the hospital were relatively rough. When the outbreak was first evident, all the people inside the hospital were immediately isolated, regardless of how their families might fare at home.

The conditions inside were not ideal either. The healthy and the unhealthy were put together for the sake of isolation. To be straightforward, such a method might kill everyone inside.

At Jen Chi Hospital, each person was allotted an isolation ward and the hospital was sealed off after careful planning. [In Hoping Hospital's case,] it is rather impossible to prevent its health workers from having emotional reactions. Some of the health workers ran out to protest.

As a result, television stations repeatedly aired pictures of the protesters which led the public to regard the hospital's health workers as unreasonable.

I heard many of the hospital's nurses were not relieved from their duties as scheduled. Even virtuous people might not be willing to die for patients. Besides, even when faced with such a difficulty, some health workers sacrificed themselves.

We cannot judge the whole picture by a single image. The media's responsibility should be to educate the public about how to prevent the spread of the disease.

TT: You have been quarantined. Do you feel your freedom has been greatly limited? Are you concerned about your family? Have they been worried about you?

Wu: We have all been very worried. Being quarantined is my social responsibility. If people don't understand that being quarantined is their social responsibility, they would indeed complain a lot.

My wife did not complain. She was also quarantined. Only when people understand and agree [that quarantine is a social responsibility] can they willingly accept isolation.

TT: In the case of Hoping Hospital, some health workers ran away, while others not on the staff volunteered to help. What motivated these people to take such action?

Wu: I think it is a matter of faith. They [the volunteers] knew if they took the necessary precautions, they would not be infected with SARS, even though they still had to run a certain amount of risk. Only those with sufficient courage, wisdom and medical knowledge would offer to help.

TT: You once practiced medicine in the US. How do you compare the medical ethics of doctors in the US and in Taiwan?

Wu: The social status of doctors in the US and Taiwan is different. The [two countries'] circumstances are different. In the US, a doctor takes care of fewer patients than a Taiwanese doctor does.

Therefore, doctors in the US have more time to give better explanations to their patients about their illness. In Taiwan, doctors seem to have been symbols of authority since the Japanese colonial period. Doctors lack communication with their patients.

As for medical ethics, I think Taiwanese doctors are no different to US doctors in this aspect. In both the US and Taiwan, there are doctors whose only goal is to make money.

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