With the recent developments in West Bengal following incidents of violence at some hospitals, there have been calls from many quarters for newer and stronger laws specifically to deal with such cases of assault against doctors, hospitals and medical staff. I am of the opinion that such laws will not help address the problem faced by doctors and that they might even be counter-productive.
We already have laws against assault in our country. If a doctor is assaulted, it will just have to be handled the same way as anyone else is assaulted. If the existing laws that cover the subject are not being effectively enforced, the solution is not to create more laws that would only increase the complexity of the system and reduce its effectiveness further.
If a person who has taken a loan from a bank commits suicide because he is unable to repay, there have been many instances where the local goons and politicians attacked the bank and its employees. So should we have a new law specifically to deal with attacks against banks and bankers?
When a bus or lorry is involved in an accident, there have been cases where locals have assaulted the driver. Should we have a law to protect drivers?
Doctors, bankers, drivers, all are doing their jobs. They have a responsibility to do their job well. But they are all humans and can make mistakes at times. When they do, they should be held accountable. There should be due process for this and violence or assault has no place in it.
Those who say that doctors need special laws because they are dedicating their lives in the service of mankind are giving them a god-like image which does not admit the possibility that they can also make mistakes or that there are limits to their power over life and death. This only makes it harder for people to accept that things may not always go well even if the doctor does everything he can, which leads to resentment in case they fail to meet the expectations of their superhuman image.
Doctors are professionals like any other. Like all other professionals, there are some among them who are after money, some who are motivated by the idea of service, some by the possibility of achieving greatness. Irrespective of their motivation, they have a duty to do be sincere to their profession and deserve to be allowed to carry out that duty without fear of violence.
This rule of right to carry out duty without fear but being held accountable for their actions should be applicable to all professions (including law enforcement, which is why I am against rules such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that is in force in some states – but that is probably a different discussion altogether).
Freeing a professional of their accountability and not providing legal, non-violent options for grievance redressal will only build up animosity against them that can potentially lead to violence (which, in any case, cannot be justified and should be handled as per extant laws).
Thus, I believe that the need of the hour is not to give doctors a special status and frame any special laws to protect them, but to make the rule of law more efficient, to make people understand that doctors are also humans who can make mistakes and fail to save a life even if they make none, and to provide more accessible and transparent options for customers to pursue their complaints when aggrieved.
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