Chorus of anguish coerced to euthanasia

 

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Category: Health Care Date: 26 Aug 01


The testimonial in my column of August 9, for the record, was not mine (since many readers were under that misapprehension.) It was given by the daughter of a patient whose father died of cancer of the bladder, after he was misdiagnosed by one specialist and finally treated by another who withheld his true condition until it was too late for the family to come to terms with it, or seek alternative help. For the record, too, the family spent $125,000 in private health care for this patient.

 

This is the letter written to the wife of this deceased cancer patient, who wrote to the Medical Board, claiming negligence and asking for an investigation into the doctors who treated her husband, as the continuing part of a series on the uncaring health system:

 

Dear Mrs X (name withheld),

We thank you for your letter of 25th January 2001 and sympathise with you on the loss of your husband.

The Medical Board has reviewed the matter and unfortunately, under the existing legislation of the Medical Board Act (1960), is not empowered to deal with matters of professional incompetence and/or negligence.

We recognise your disappointment in not being able to pursue the matter any further.

Sincerely,

Dr Dev Ramoutar

Secretary.

 

This person has been lucky to get an acknowledgement. I am still waiting for mine from the Medical Board and Medical Association to a letter I wrote them 12 months ago asking them how accountable they are to patients in this country.

 

The refrain from patients who have contacted me by the dozens goes like this:

“There is no justice.”

“Doctors are answerable to no one. We are paying through our nose and not getting care.”

“There are no systems to deal with complaints.”

“Take the stethoscope from the doctor and you are left with an unscrupulous businessman.”

“No doctors will testify against one another, so we can’t even go to court.”

“I am afraid for myself and my family.”

 

There have been those, too, who have written saying how this doctor or the other saved their lives or those of their loved ones. Patients have written in, praising several doctors’ compassion and competence. And there have been words of encouragement from the true professionals, doctors with integrity for whom medicine is a vocation, and who would like to see systems in place to deal with complaints, a medical Ombudsman, a Malpractice Council, as well as a Code of Conduct for doctors and a Patients’ Charter, because it will protect both doctors and patients. 

 

So here I go, banging my head against the wall once more, created by the Men in White, repeating seemingly into the darkness, that even if one patient dies of negligence and that case is not investigated, and there is no prospect of justice to the bereaved family, it is too many.

 

Around me is a chorus of anguished men and women who have paid dearly for the lives of their loved ones, and still lost them, paid with money, time, tears, frustration, helplessness.

 

One middle-aged man who is still employed full-time, recently remarked, to my shock, that he has already given instructions to his wife and children not to spend any money on him should he fall ill, and no matter what happens, he wants to die without medical care.

 

“I am not going to throw away the money for which I have worked hard all my life at doctors. It’s better my wife uses it to educate the children,” he said.

 

This goes beyond cynicism. It’s a form of coerced euthanasia. Have we been brought to this, then? Left with no choice?

 

Consider the voice of this woman who is too broken to protest. Earlier this year, she claims, her two-year-old died in a case of negligence, as recounted in this column two weeks ago, and this week, her mother, too, died under the “care” of the medical fraternity.

 

“I got a phone call saying my mother, who I had admitted last night into the hospital for vomiting, died this morning.

“Last night the doctor admitted her for ‘mild dehydration’ and he brushed me off when I said she had a bad heart and just put her on drips. The nurses asked me if she tossed about. I said yes, but they failed to give her a crib bed.

“This morning they called me to say her heart stopped, and assured me she ‘went peacefully,’ but when I got to the hospital, another patient told me she was awake, calling for me, and fell off that high hospital bed after which she was pronounced dead.

“There is just no justice for people around here - it’s really hard - really not easy. Not easy at all.”

 

Consider the voice of this reader, who says his family spent some $200,000 in medical care for three people in two years in several private and one government institution.

 

“The medical fraternity does not care. Private and semi-private institutions charge a lot but don’t have the equipment and staff to support the demand. Nurses only become nurses because they probably can’t do what they really want to do.

“Doctors are not able to clearly articulate the chances of patients either, because they don’t know, or they are not trained in communicating with anxious relatives.

“For each of our relatives we had to settle the doctors, reassure them that we are a strong family and could take bad news. Only then were we able to get information.

“We had to change sheets, bathe our relatives, administer medication, change catheters, give insulin injections.

“Here is the clincher. Imagine me, a man, having to bathe, wipe faeces, wipe the vaginal areas of my grandmother, because the nurses were not there, were overworked, had not reached their rooms as yet.

“Doctors do not do tasks of that nature. However, they can easily take your money.”

 

The Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago clearly does not hold itself responsible, and will not be accountable to the public.

 

They think these voices will go away. They won’t, as long as the medical fraternity continues to treat the lives and well-being of patients as a business rather than a vocation. The voices will stay, until one day, they get too loud to ignore.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur