Hippocratic Oath


By Prema Mallawarachchi

I doubt whether I am proficient enough to extend a reference to a learned discourse titled "All’s well that ends well" by Dr. Carlo Fonseka. With apologies to him, I would like to pen a few lines about my experience of consulting specialist doctors in Sri Lanka.

As quoted by the learned doctor, John Owens’s poetic observation succinctly draws a parallel between God and the doctor for man in times of trouble. This is particularly true in the Sri Lankan context where the medical profession is considered to be the noblest and the most revered form of employment. In a way, this public opinion is well accosted for as man, from the cradle to the deathbed, leans on medical help for survival. Accordingly, doctors are respected, loved and held in high esteem by our people.

However, there is another side of the coin. Take the plight of the countless patients who throng to private hospitals to consult the specialist of their choice. Increasingly pressed for time, most, but not all, of the doctors I have consulted examine their patients in perfunctory, sometimes fatal, haste.

Moreover, in compliance to medical ethics and etiquette, the doctor is required to admit the patients one at a time into the consultation room. Nowadays, it is shocking to see that two or three patients are ushered inside whilst the initial patient is still under examination. Such behaviour inevitably increases the possibility of medical mishaps in addition to violating the patients’ right to privacy when discussing sensitive health issues. Even infants are subject to this unprofessional treatment.

How noble is it to sell one’s talent in this way without exercising it as a caduceus for the healing of the masses? This gross commercialisation of the medical field is an insult to the Hippocratic oath which symbolises the purity and selflessness of the medical profession.

Even so, it should be kept in mind that some doctors do not stoop to such unprofessional levels. Such doctors should never be slighted and certainly deserve respect and adoration. Nevertheless, it is also true that an increasing proportion of doctors fail to examine their patients fully as expanding their consultation list seems to be their top priority. It is the sick and feeble who, caught in the whirlpool created by this free play of supply and demand in hospitals, suffer and despair when certain doctors pay more focus to their patient’s wallet rather than his or her health issue.

Let us pray that in the future the eminent specialist doctor will have enough time, patience and compassion to provide the patient with the full examination they deserve. May there be a time when all the doctors in Sri Lanka uphold the Hippocratic oath.

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