Ethics and making a mockery of the Hippocratic Oath

Reading this case of an unprofessional and unethical doctor in Singapore provided me with some food for thought, particularly around the increasing role of ethics and professionalism, particularly in a world of increasing inequality.

It is critical that the vulnerable segments of society are given the appropriate levels of care and support because where unethical and unprofessional behaviours exist, they tend to exacerbate the suffering upon the vulnerable. Kudos also to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) for pursuing this vigorously on behalf of the victim.

The case itself was interesting. Here was a doctor, Dr. David Wong Him Choon, a noted orthopaedic surgeon at Raffles Hospital, who chose to give only two days of medical leave for a foreign worker who had fractured his hand and had undergone surgery. There is increasing concern that there are doctors who are acting in collusion with construction companies to minimise the time off taken by their workers and to also limit their liabilities for compensation.

What is even more interesting/bizarre, is that previously (between June and December 2015) a Disciplinary Tribunal had acquitted Dr Wong of professional misconduct for giving insufficient hospitalisation leave despite the following findings:

  • The tribunal agreed that the appropriate time off (conservatively) for someone with a distal radius fracture was two weeks of medial leave. (Wong had given two days.)
  • The tribunal also agreed that Wong had failed in his duty to discuss with the patient to understand if there were adequate conditions for his rest and rehabilitation.

Despite the above, the Tribunal chose to acquit Wong on the basis of insufficient proof!

This led the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) (to their great credit) to file an appeal to the High Court which subsequently overturned the tribunal’s acquittal of Wong and convicted him of professional misconduct and sentenced him to suspension of medical practice for a period of six months.

Wong’s behaviour is morally reprehensible and runs counter to the Hippocratic Oath which states: “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”

This raised a few questions for me, namely:

  • What was the composition of the Disciplinary Tribunal that showed such flagrant disregard to evidence, common sense and conventional wisdom and what is their justification for their acquittal of Wong?
  • Whilst Wong has been ordered to pay for the SMC legal and tribunal costs, will Wong also be responsible for the worker’s additional injuries and damages caused as a result of Wong’s unethical and negligent behaviour?
  • Is a six-month suspension/sabbatical a sufficient deterrence? Perhaps in addition to the six-months suspension, there should be a clear statement which suggests he will be struck off permanently for another violation and also be ordered to perform pro-bono activities for migratory workers in Singapore for a period of time. This will be not dissimilar to the Correct Work Orders (CWOs) imposed for a number of other offences in Singapore.
  • In addition to punishment meted out to the doctors, companies and firms, that also are responsible for the prevalence of such despicable practices must also be brought to account and be made an example of.

How a society supports and treats its most vulnerable, its most helpless and its most needy, is an indication of the society’s progress and humanity. A society that is materially wealthy but neglects to look after the concerns of its most helpless is but a poor and miserable one.

 

 

 

 

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