Doctors in the news, not for good reasons!
Posted on May 30th, 2019

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana Courtesy The Island


Dental Doctor Rajitha has broken his vow of silence and we are being bombarded with his vocal barrage. Watching his press conference, my new-gained little faith in Yahapalanaya, as expressed in the article “Yahapalanaya, the curse? May be changing!” (The Island, 28 May), started evaporating, even before the ink was dry. His performance can only be described as a masterclass in absurdity, displaying the not-so-hidden agenda of Yahapalanaya. Wonder whether his great leader has put him up to this or Ranil is already regretting unlocking Rajitha’s mouth!

Judgement before

the hearing!

The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), appointed by the government, to ‘investigate’ Minister Bathiudeen and ‘others’ is nothing but a political ploy to circumvent the no-confidence motion against this minister, sans any honourability, became obvious when another doctor in the news, Parliamentarian Kavinda Jayawardena decided to resign. His initial hint that this may be at the behest of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith was soon dispelled by the intervention, as usual forthright, by His Eminence who stated “I do not dispense political advice and M Ps should act according to their conscience”

Minister Senaratne, who replaced Kavinda Jayawardena in the PSC, in his inimical manner spewed accusations at journalists, condemning their attempts to push a ‘moderate Muslim’ like Minister Bathiudeen towards extremism, (mis) quoting how moderate Tamil Politicians were pushed to extremism in the past! A cynic may comment how much we have to fear from ‘extremist Muslims’ considering the danger from this moderate minister, but that is another story. The more important consideration is that by his statement, Rajitha made it abundantly clear that he had already arrived at the judgement, even before the hearing!

Is it proper for a person who has prejudged the issue, to sit on a PSC? Perhaps, it is too much to expect Rajitha to withdraw, as he has displayed repeatedly that the brain centre for shame has been dormant for ages, but is it not the duty of the Speaker to replace him? Or, will the Speaker turn a blind eye? More likely, considering the Speaker’s recent behaviour!

Face covering

It was disturbing to read about a young doctor, appointed to Homagama Hospital, refusing to remove her face covering and opting to resign than show her face to patients. She wished to defy current legislation, though under the emergency, for no good reason, as many Islamic scholars have pointed out that face-covering is not mandated in Islam, being a cultural dictate of Saudi Arabia. This behaviour of a young doctor, to say the least, is very disappointing,

Sterilisation scandal

Of late, one programme I never miss is Rangana de Silva’s excellent newspaper review, “Paththare Vistare”, broadcast on Hiru TV. In addition to the review of articles in Sinhala Newspapers, he shows relevant video-clips together with lovely cartoons and wonderful sarcastic poems that demonstrate the vast talent of our journalists. Unfortunately, these poems defy translation but mention must be made of the beautiful one in “Maubima”, which mocked Mangala as the tenth terrorist because his loose talk is as destructive as the bombs of terrorists.

I was shocked, to say the least, when in a programme last week, the news item in “Divaina”, the sister paper of “The Island”, was shown wherein it was alleged that a Muslim doctor may have performed illegal sterilisations in as many as 4000 Sinhala women. I could not believe my eyes, nor trust my ears that a member of my noble profession could act so unethically; to perform sterilisation procedures, without consent, during Caesarean sections. Numbers may have been an exaggeration, I thought, but even one is not permissible: it is unethical, illegal and a terrorist act, if carried out with a sinister motive could be interpreted as genocide.

I could hardly doubt the news item, considering the high esteem I hold Upali Newspapers in, but was shocked when in parliament, in reply to a question raised on this issue by an MP, the Speaker made this categorical statement: “On seeing this disturbing news item, I contacted the relevant authorities immediately. There is no truth whatsoever and the police have already started an investigation into the conduct of that newspaper”

What has gone wrong with Upali Newspapers, I wondered!

Next day, in Parliament, when the same MP inquired whether the Speaker would be giving the promised update, the reply was that there would be an inquiry. When the MP attempted to seek clarification as to whether the inquiry was about the doctor or the newspaper, the Speaker brushed it off.

What happened to Karu Jayasuriya, once a patriot who shunned his party to support the war against the LTTE, I wondered!

Subsequent turn of events has vindicated the position of “Divaina”, though two journalists have been questioned in lightening rapidity. There is absolutely no doubt that all the support needed, should be given to the police to conduct an impartial investigation into a potentially very severe criminal act. Any other investigation, however well intentioned, should, in no way, affect the police investigation. Any attempt at a cover-up must be thwarted.

Dr Shafi Shihabdeen

Dr Shihabdeen resigned from his post to contest the last general election, on the UNP ticket for Kurunegala District. Having failed to gain entry to parliament, instead of re-joining at the ‘bottom’ had he wished to practice as a government medical officer, as stipulated in the ‘Establishment Code’, he had been allowed to re-join with no loss at all, on the basis of a Cabinet Paper. Afterall, “some are more equal than others” proclaimed the pigs who controlled the government in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”!

During the election campaign, in an interview to a Sinhala Newspaper titled “I am against Nationalist and Religious Politics”, Dr Shihabdeen has stated that he had done over 8000 Caesarean Sections and claimed he had done up to 8 in two hours. Allowing for even the fastest change-over, that gives less than 10 minutes for each operation, a world-record, albeit with the proviso that such hurried surgery is very likely to result in unwarranted complications.

My colleagues opine that it is impossible for even the most experienced Obstetrician to do a C-section in 10 to 15 minutes. Maybe, it was political talk or evidence of callous disregard of patient safety.

There had been an inquiry about his altering patient records (BHT) to grant custody of a child to someone other than the parents and a summary of the findings were shown by some TV channels. Though the guilty findings have been forwarded to the Ministry of Health, no action had been taken, the media claimed. If true, this is a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities.

Dr Shihabdeen was taken into custody by Kurunegala Police for ‘inexplicable wealth’ and was handed over to CID for further investigations.

Unjust interventions

Rather than allowing the investigation to take its’ own course, as Dr Shihabdeen too is entitled to justice, there have been interventions on both sides, equally unjust.

Some doctors, who have convinced themselves of Dr Shihabdeen’s guilt, are making public pronouncements as to the amount of compensation to be paid to the victims. A Parliamentarian Buddhist Monk, whilst estimating the population loss, labels this an offence worse than the terrorist bomb blasts. I agree, if proved, it is a heinous crime and even if a single woman has had her fertility plundered, this doctor should spend the rest of his life in jail. But guilt must be proved first.

The most ludicrous intervention was by Governor Azath Salley. According to him, DIG of the area had taken Dr Shihabdeen to custody unfairly and at his request, the IGP has ordered the CID to take over the suspect. True, due to the political deficit created by Yahapalanaya postponing provincial council elections through fear of defeat, unelected political governors have become very powerful. But are they entitled to dictate justice?

The Governor justified preferential treatment given to this doctor after his election defeat and stated that his wealth is accumulated by various enterprises, which he claimed the doctor is entitled to operate whilst being a government servant.

The worst was implied action against the DIG and the Hospital Director. He had white-washed Dr Shihabdeen and already decided who is at fault. Is this Yahapalana justice?

Is it not long overdue, for Governors Salley and Hisbullah as well as Minister Bathiudeen to be sacked? If that cannot be done because of 19A, time has come for the people to decide whether 19A is a hindrance to security and progress.

The response of the Health Minister

The worst remark in that press conference was the one Rajitha must have considered to be his smartest. However, anyone with even a ‘kalanda’ of intelligence would consider it to be the most inappropriate: instead of the reassurance, that an extremely sensitive and important issue will be properly investigated, a rabble-rousing statement was made, adding to the suspicion that the UNP is still seeking a blood-bath. Without realising that he has added yet another ‘gate’, ‘Sterilisation-gate’, to their misdemeanours, Rajitha displayed all his remaining teeth triumphantly, after stating:

“You all would not have shown the same enthusiasm had the accused doctor been Sinhala!”

After such a racist remark, does he deserve to continue as Minister of Health? Probably not. But, certainly, the inquiry into this should not be within his remit as he has already displayed gross prejudice.

Silencing administrators

The Minister’s intentions are made even more clear by the attempted silencing of Senior Administrators heading large hospitals. I do hope they will defy, now that the atmosphere of suppression that has existed so far, has been lifted. It is obvious, in the name of Yahapalanaya, systematic political suppression has existed, preventing the exposure of misdeeds by the politically blessed.

What should happen now

It is reported that already over 200 women, who think they are affected, have come forward but patient agitation is not the correct way forward. There should be a systematic approach. Having had experience in investigating ‘medical malpractices’, may I suggest adopting the accepted procedure in instances like this, though cumbersome. Retired doctors, senior medical students may volunteer support for this task, which is labour intensive.

By meticulously going through medical records, like operation theatre registers, all patients who had C-sections performed by Dr Shihabdeen need to be identified and contacted to ascertain whether they have had subsequent pregnancies.

The second stage is the investigation of all those who have not had any subsequent pregnancies. Having excluded those who deliberately avoided pregnancies, others should be offered further investigations. There may be a significant number who decide against invasive tests, understandably, because in addition to discomfort there are risks involved. However, even if a few agree, there should be sufficient evidence to establish facts.

Another layer of mistrust has been created by these unfortunate incidents and it is incumbent on the government to sort these out, especially ‘attempted’ sterilisations, rather than yet another attempt at cover-up, which seems to be a preferred Yahapalana strategy up to now, unfortunately.

One Response to “Doctors in the news, not for good reasons!”

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