Doctors Refusing To Treat Coronavirus Patients Are Violating Their Oath
Justice Markandey Katju writes about the doctors’ refusal to treat coronavirus patients due to non-availability of protective gear and questions whether their refusal is justified.
It is reported that many doctors in government hospitals in Bihar, India have refused to work in their hospitals unless they are provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid coronavirus infection.
One can understand the concern of these doctors. But then what happens to their Hippocratic oath? There are many infectious diseases, but if doctors ignore their sacred duty of treating the sick just because they themselves may get infected, what will happen to their patients, and what will happen to their oath?
When the Twin Towers in New York were hit on 9/11 the brave New York firefighters went into the buildings to save lives, though many themselves perished.
I have previously written that it is the duty of a lawyer to defend his client regardless of risk of personal harm.
In the novel ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee, the lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in the state of Alabama (which was then a capital offense in the state) despite knowing of the risk to himself and his family of being physically attacked by racists.
In Pakistan many lawyers have defended blasphemy accused even at the risk of being killed.
I never said that the demand of doctors for PPE in view of the coronavirus danger is unjustified. My question is: should doctors refuse to treat patients with infectious diseases until provided PPE? There are numerous infectious diseases in the world. Should doctors refuse to treat patients infected by them until given PPE for fear that they may themselves be infected? In my opinion, the correct answer can only be in the negative. It is true that the authorities should provide PPE to doctors. But what if they don’t? Should doctors violate their Hippocratic oath in this situation and refuse to treat infected patients? No doubt doctors will be endangering themselves In this situation, but they should do their duty regardless of the consequences.
The Hippocratic oath nowhere says that doctors should treat the sick only if they are themselves free of any danger. So doctors should follow it and do their duty, particularly since only about 2% people infected by corona virus die of it
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.