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Lagos Doctors Strike: Is the Hypocritic Oath still valid?

Patients at the LASUTH as doctors called off strike

By Sola Ogundipe &  Chioma Obinna

“My patients shall  be   my primary concern.” This expression is no doubt the key to the essence of medical practice all over the world. In the healthcare industry, the patient is king. The patient  is the reason for medical practice in the first place.

Without the patient there will be no doctor, nurse, pharmacist or any other  medical professional.

At every point in time, the patient has become a pawn in the hands of  the medical practitioners who have been using them to bargain with their employers in the high places.

Such bargaining, usually has not been  in the patient’s own  interest but for the benefits of the agitators.

Often, these bargaining episodes culminate in unimaginable, dehumanising and agonisingly long  months of strike all to the disadvantage of the hapless and indigent Nigerian patient who cannot afford services of privately owned hospitals or jet out of the country for better medicare abroad.

In view of the foregoing, the million dollar question on the lips of  Lagosians  today, is whether the  part of the Hippocratic Oath sworn to by  the doctors that says “My patients shall be my primary concern” still  applicable? Is the patient, indeed, still the primary concern? The Lagosains want to know.

A further look into the Hippocratic Oath, which doctors take on graduation, states that “Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death” Are doctors treading with care today in Lagos?  From the way and manner that the striking doctors are going about pressing home their demands irrespective of whose ox is gored, (patients inclusive) can they truly be described as treading with care?

The oath which also states that “But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.

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Above all, I must not play at God”  With the on going agonising strike in Lagos in which the doctors have vehemently declined to save lives, can they say they are not aware that people are dying in droves? In all honesty, are they not exercising their power to take lives?  Above all, going by their action and general attitude could they not be seen as playing God?

In a similar vein, it is questionable whether the part of the famous Hippocratic Oath which states that  “I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient,” is still valid considering that the whole essence of the strike is about the welfare of the doctors and their social standing.

Moreso, the validity of the part of the physician’s oath  in which they declare that:  “May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help,” is in doubt.

This is because multitude of patients in Lagos have been crying, begging, pleading, admonishing and entreating and using all possible  means to obtain healing which the doctors have promised them.

Alas,  the patient’s  cries, their pleas, entreaties have been in vain as the doctors’ doors have remained firmly shut against the key essence of their practice.

Finally, even though every one of the striking doctors must have sworn that  “If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter.

I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour” the glaring disregard for sanctity of life and  refusal to heed the well-articulated objectives of the Hippocratic Oath, makes one wonder if indeed that the doctors will live and enjoy their lives on earth.

It is not out of place to say that these doctors may not have understood the weight of the Oath they took judging by their lackadaisical attitude towards ending the 13 weeks old strike.

Today, the doctors may have reduced the Hippocratic Oath to mere words.
According to Wikipedia, “An Oath is either a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow.”

In Ecclesiastics, 5, verse 2; the Holy Bible says; “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.”
Again, in the book of  Matthew 5:33; the Bible says that  “‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.  In the Quran Surah Al_Maidah 5:89: it says;  … But keep to your oaths.

Thus doth Allah make clear to you His Signs, that you may be grateful.”
Despite the oath doctors swear to,  uphold in the discharge of their duties, tales still abound of the shoddy manner and attitude in which they treat their patients, irrespective of the patient’s plight.

It is no longer news that doctors in Lagos have been on strike in the last 12 to 13 weeks now.

What may be considered as news is the fact that the State Government after much pressures and deliberations from concerned stakeholders finally offered their olive branch in the form of a perceived 75 per cent increases in wages for the medical personnel in the state.

In addition, the state government also agreed to review the dismissal of Dr. Ibrahim Olaifa former Chairman of the State Medical Guild who was dismissed in the heat of crises, and to commence deduction of the Guild’s check_off dues through the state Treasury Office as well as review  the issue of tax deduction in order to comply with relevant Tax Laws of Government.

Despite the offers and for reasons best  known to the doctors, the olive branch of the government was rejected outrightly and the strike which  many have hoped would be called off continued.

Till this moment, Lagosians are still at a loss as to why the doctors and the government cannot reach an amicable agreement as responsible and responsive stakeholders in whose hands  they  have placed their health needs.

It is now clear that the doctors did not embark on strike in the interest of the patient. It is even less clear if the plight of the patient has moved the government enough to succumb to the demands of the striking doctors.  Just like the traditional old sayings, when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.  Lagosians remain at the receiving end.
However,  Medicine is supposed to be a humanitarian science. Whether this is true in Lagos is debatable.  Medicine is a calling and not a vocation.


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