The Ethical Doctor is the perfect literary post-mortem, to ascertain the cause of death of not an individual but an entire system: the Indian health care. Born and educated in India, debutante author Dr Kamal Kumar Mahawar now works as consultant general and bariatric surgeon at City Hospitals Sunderland, NHS Trust, in the UK. Having worked in countries with well-grounded systems in place and a conducive environment for medical ethics, accountability and respectability, Mahawar wonders why India cannot replicate the same. Why, in general, is corruption so rampant in every sphere of Indian society and why, in particular, 'the ethical doctor' is such an ambiguous reality in the Indian context.
While the book gently commences with the 2,500-year-old ‘essence’ of medicine, the Hippocratic Oath, the author goes on to launch a scathing attack on the more recent code of ethics (2002) implemented by the Medical Council of India. He says, “Line after line, it is a comical compilation of rules and values that no mortal doctor can ever dream of adhering to in its entirety.”
Mahawar is vociferous about the notoriously prominent ‘cut practice’—when the referee of a patient pays out to the referrer for sending him ‘business’. The patient becomes a ‘commodity’ in the health sector, akin to a marketplace caused by massive corporatisation.
What impresses is the author’s endeavour to painstakingly analyse both sides of the coin with restrained neutrality.
The book goes on to introspect the vicious cycle of medical corruption, unnecessary tests and treatment that render the poor patient helpless, physically and financially; the cut-throat survival tactics of doctors in a dangerously competitive market and the powerful pharmaceutical conglomerates obsessed about marketing the brand and reckless human trials.
The uterus scandal of Samastipur, Bihar, still sends shivers down one’s spine. Mahawar tells the poignant tale of the poverty-ridden victims with sensitivity.
Indian health care stands besieged by medical crime, be it organ trade or commercial surrogacy. The presence of middlemen ensures a thriving health ‘business’. In the midst of the chaos is yet another problem—the huge number of quacks.
There is an honest analysis of the dominant private sector alongside its lacklustre public counterpart. Finally, the author stresses on the urgent need for the regulators to step in and just do their job.
The Ethical Doctor is a wake-up call and guiding force for India to build ethical and effective health care ethos. A must-read for all those who wish to make a difference.
The Ethical Doctor
By Dr Kamal Kumar Mahawar
Published by Harper Collins India
Price Rs 350; pages 255 Price Rs 350; pages 255