By Henry Ojelu
BESIDES God, doctors and judges are perhaps the most powerful people on earth. This is because they have the power to take or give life by their action. As for doctors, they possess such enormous powers that practically every sick person is at their mercy. Aware of this sacred responsibility, medical practitioners across the world, encapsulated for themselves a common guideline often referred to as the Hippocratic Oath. While various nations across the world have different laws guiding their medical practice, the guideline for those laws are derived from the Hippocratic Oath.
Here in Nigeria, the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act is the law guiding medical practice in the country. While the act has been commended as an excellent piece of legislation, sadly, many, including doctors and patients are ignorant of the law and even much so, the principles and ethics of the medical profession which the law attempts to uphold. This was perhaps the burden on the mind of the duo of Professor Shima Gyoh, OFR and Layi Babatunde, SAN in their new book titled: Principles of Clinic Ethics and their Legal Dimensions in Nigeria.
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The book is a rare combination of two distinguished professionals from two unlikely complementary fields – Law and Medicine, to produce a book which by every standard, is a masterpiece. While Professor Shima is unarguably one of Nigeria’s pride in medical practice, Layi Babatunde stands out as one of the leading lights of the legal profession. In an uncommon combination of decades of immeasurable experience, both authors undertook a scholarly exposition of key ethical and legal issues in medical practice in Nigeria. The book is also a product of their work as chairman and Legal Assessor respectively, of the Nigerian Medical and Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, set up to try allegations of professional misconduct against medical doctors and dentists.
The first part of the 560-page book published by Lawbreed Limited, Lagos focused on global history of unethical medical practices and the unpardonable crime perpetrated against mankind through the abuse of medical knowledge by various dictatorial regimes across the world. It revealed how nations like Germany, Japan, Russia and even the United States of America, employed crude medical knowledge using doctors to torture, incarcerate and incinerate perceived enemies. It traced the heinous trend up until the era of the adoption of the Hippocratic Oath.
The authors devoted several early pages of the book to medical practice such as organ transplant, organ donation, heroic medicine, abortion, human sexuality, physician-assisted suicide, traditional and alternative medicine etc. It also explains such practices, the challenges, local application and the underlying principles in the medical and dental practitioner’s guidelines.
Perhaps for the benefit of many who may not have seen or read the Nigerian Medical and Dental Practitioner’s Guideline and Act, the authors reproduced both documents in their documentation and further highlighted critical portions for every medical and dental practitioner. The book highlighted sections of the act which underlines the primary duty of every medical practitioner which is to save life at all times and also touched on the sensitive issue of affording gunshot victims prompt medical attention without the need for a police report.
In another instance, the book looked at the contentious issue of capital punishment by convicts facing death sentence, from medical perspective. Stating that the actual punishment for crime ought to be incarceration and restitution.
The first part of the book dealt with issues such as challenges to good clinical practice in Nigeria, Hierarchy in Clinical Care and Continuing Professional Development. They emphasised the need for continuous professional development in the medical field to ensure that only medical practitioners performing at the cutting edge of their profession remain in practice.
In the second part of the book, the authors devoted about 193 pages to review of cases decided by the Medical and Dental Tribunal. About 12 incisive judgments delivered by the Medical and Dental Practitioners Tribunal between 2004 and 2007 (1999 to 2005) were reproduced and analysed by the authors. Some of the cases bordered on allegation of clinical mismanagement, concealing of failed operation, fatal hydrotubation, fatal cesarean section in illegal premises, illegal private practice and iatrogenic faecal fistula.
From a general observation, the aim of the book clearly was not to cast doctors and dentists in bad light, but to show how few cases of negligence received appropriate disciplinary measure by the Tribunal.
The book is indeed a masterpiece and is recommended for all doctors, patients, lawyers and general public.