OUR STUDIO DEBATES

I switched off the TV in disgust!

DELHIBERATIONS

PADMA RAO SUNDARJI

This week, the capital was abuzz with talk of health issues.
On the one hand, there was a loud, controversial, wholly illogical television debate on a leading English news channel on Thursday, centering around a tragic incident in Ireland.
On the other  was a hope-awakening talk entitled ‘We Can Win’, which outlined, among other things, the existing lacunae in our public health services, often the root-case of medical negligence in India. But through the solutions it suggested, the talk also offered hope to India’s long-suffering public.

HATRED, VENOM, NO LOGIC
Last month,  a lady of Indian origin who was 17-weeks pregnant and who, along with her husband lived in Ireland, presented at a hospital with severe pain. The doctors told her that she was miscarrying.  The couple asked for an abortion but were reportedly refused one, citing ‘Catholic laws’ which do not allow doctors in the predominantly Catholic country to abort a fetus as long as there is a fetal heartbeat.  The lady went into severe complications, the couple begged for an abortion and were continuously denied one. Though the lady’s cervix was dilated and remained so – reportedly inviting infection – the doctors did nothing.  When the fetal  heartbeat stopped, they conducted the abortion. But by then, it was too late. The mother had contracted severe septicemia and died.
A terrible, tragic case, in which the flawed laws of Ireland undoubtedly played a role. But primarily and prima facie: a case of medical negligence and wrong medical judgment.  
Since then, thousands of angry Irish people are out on the streets holding up candles and pictures of the tragically deceased 31-year-old from Bangalore, demanding that their government change laws which force dozens of Irish women themselves to travel to the UK or elsewhere to seek abortions.
There is heated debate in the Irish parliament, the Irish government has constituted an inquiry into the incident.
And yet, a debate on India’s loudest and most controversial TV channel last week made any Indian viewer with a conscience, cringe to share nationality with the anchor and several panelists.
The anchor - who routinely plays judge, jury and executioner himself - straightaway said he was not going to consider ‘medical negligence’ as a possibility.  Backed by three other screaming participants - a Hindu conservative activist from Kerala,  a venom-spitting woman human rights activist from Delhi and a well-known and vociferous lawyer, the issue was “debated” with an anti-abortion activist from Ireland and a Catholic bishop from Delhi.
The Catholic bishop said that it was a tragic death, that his religion does not allow the killing of a fetus but also not of a mother and that this was medical misjudgment  that must be probed and the guilty brought to the book. He was shouted down by the anchor as championing Catholicism and ‘racist’ Ireland. 
The Irish activist pointed out that the details of the case – which doctor said what to the couple, what the medical report contained etc. – were not yet known and it was futile to speculate before the investigation was over. She was shouted at by the anchor and accused of shielding the doctors of her country.
When she read out Irish medical guidelines that clearly state that abortions are allowed in such cases of complications and that therefore it may have been medical bungling, the woman activist from Delhi shouted at the top of her voice : “Then why was this Indian woman treated like this ? Because of her Indian accent, right ? Who are you to speak ? Do you even have any ‘coloured’ friends yourself ?”
The channel thought nothing of the fact that this debate was being aired to millions of us Indians, who are known for our dangerous and illogical tendency to incendiary and destructive behavior at the slightest provocation.  (Ironically, it was taking place at the same time as Mumbai virtually shut down in anticipation of unpredictable mob behavior in case Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray passes away).
And yet, the channel thought nothing of straightaway turning a tragedy under investigation into an Ireland-vs-India, white –vs- brown and Catholic-vs-Hindu issue. 
Medical negligence is nothing new in India, indeed, hundreds of people die tragic deaths everyday. Social evils in the name of religion, sex and caste fill newsprint, even that of the flagship company that owns the channel. Every day, there is a burning bride, a female fetus being aborted, or babies and mothers dying on the pavements outside hospitals in India.  They are hardly ever the subject of an hour-long debate on a national network. 
And yet, the anchor put his journalistic mediocrity on embarrassing display by telling the Irish activist: “Ms. X, I am proud to be Indian and I can tell you, this sort of thing would never happen in India”.
It was a travesty of a powerful medium, a mockery of journalism and a debate that crossed every tenet of decency, fairness and thorough research.  It was a debate that must be condemned by every monitoring body in charge of responsible and accurate journalism in this country.
When I switched off the TV in disgust, I was deeply ashamed to be a fellow Indian.

THE GOOD DOCTOR
Dr Sameer Kaul, on the other hand, your very own and one who has tirelessly conducted free cancer screening camps in Kashmir even at the height of militancy, when he would often find himself the only passenger on the solitary plane to Srinagar,  needs no introduction to any of GK’s readers.
There was a moment of great pride this week, when Dr. Kaul was only one of two cancer experts – the other being a physician from the United States- invited by a prominent national daily to speak on the fight against cancer at its annual summit.
The 52-year-old surgeon is known to not mince his words.  Undaunted by the plethora of movers and shakers who formed the 800-strong audience at a glitzy five-star banquet hall in Delhi, he pointed to modest official estimates that indicate that cancer cases are going to rise to 11.5 lakhs by 2020 with most being tobacco-related,  but warned them that his experience in his clinic painted a much grimmer picture : that India is going to be deluged by cancer by 2020.
The New Delhi based oncologist-cum-philanthropist, whose Breast Cancer Patients’ Benefit Foundation (BCPBF) boasts of a cancer drug repository, bullies pharmaceuticals into donating free or subsidized medicine and distributes it amongst the poorest and the neediest for free all over South Asia and with regularity in Kashmir, pointed to the frightening shortage of screening facilities and trained staff in India. He also emphasized the urgency and necessity of the government pulling out of the health sector, while yet playing watchdog to unscrupulous private hospitals.
“This is the era of swanky hospitals,” Dr Kaul told captains of industry, politicians, television personalities, film stars and practically everyone who is rich, powerful and makes headlines in this country.  “Every other day, a palace springs up right next to a shanty. In terms of geography, social and economic access, the distribution of such hospitals is heterogenous. But they operate on unreasonably high profit margins and are completely unregulated and unaccredited at the moment.”
He urged the government to set up guidelines that would check such malpractices and itself ensure that funds meant for health care are not siphoned off  by unscrupulous public sector organizations.
Finally, he urged the government to put away its idea of free health care for all BPL Indians and instead encourage greater individual responsibility and public-private participation in the field of health care, like group insurances such as among resident-welfare societies.  Pointing to the fact that European nations like Germany were moving away from the concept of providing everything for free,’ he said that  introducing such a system would be a disastrous venture and equal to “putting everyone on dole for the rest of their lives.”
Dr Kaul ended his talk to a rapt audience with poignant pictures of a little Kashmiri girl, six-year old Ayat Rashid, whom he is treating for a bone tumour.
 “If we were to worry even half as much for Ayat as we do for our cars, our gold, our houses, we will surely be on the road to setting things right.”
Coming on the heels of the angry and illogical venom on our screens just a day before, Dr Sameer Kaul’s talk at the end of the week came as a ray of hope. 
It made me switch on my television again.

Lastupdate on : Fri, 16 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 16 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST




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