The doctor came pretty close to violating ethics of privacy and advertising as prescribed by the Medical Council of India.

Doesnt Nagpur doctors parading of Harlequin baby violate medical ethicsImage: Edited image from HT Photo
Voices Ethics Tuesday, June 14, 2016 - 11:52

There is just about no doubt that the media falls easy prey to its own proclivity to sensationalize and grab-eyeballs, but doctors should know better. And it is not expected of them to smilingly pose with visibly abnormal babies in front of cameras while the family is going through a tough time and the baby is at the verge of dying.

On Saturday, a 23-year-old woman from Amravati gave birth to the girl at Lata Mangeshkar Medical College and Hospital in Nagpur. The baby girl was born with a severe congenital disorder and near-total missing external body skin.  In medical parlance, this condition is called Harlequin Ichthyosis. The baby died after two days of struggle.

What jumps out of this photo of a doctor holding up the ‘Harlequin’ baby is the exhibitionism and insensitivity in parading the baby with a congenital disorder. The smile on the doctors face rubs salt to the injury of insensitivity.

Clearly, the extremely rare nature of the case and the excruciatingly uncommon look of the baby gave way to the doctors looking at this as an interesting medical phenomena which they want publicity for, and not a case of a sick baby at the verge of its death, sending parents into a fit of sadness and helplessness.

Apart from the insensitivity of holding up the baby in front of camera, flashing a smile, the doctor in question has come pretty close to violating ethics of privacy and advertising as prescribed by the Medical Council of India.

Chapter 2 of the Code of Ethics of the Medical Council of India reads,

“Patience, Delicacy and Secrecy: Patience and delicacy should characterize the physician. Confidences concerning individual or domestic life entrusted by patients to a physician and defects in the disposition or character of patients observed during medical attendance should never be revealed unless their revelation is required by the laws of the State.”

There was no requirement by laws of the State for the doctors to splash the medical condition of the baby all over the papers, and even if done while maintaining anonymity of the parents and having taken consent from, it falls on the doctor to take a call and not pose for such insensitive parents.

This comes pretty close to violating the ethics of advertising too. Advertising is strictly prohibited, and, the Code of Ethics says,

“A medical practitioner is however permitted to make a formal announcement in press regarding the following:

On starting practice.

On change of type of practice.

On changing address.

On temporary absence from duty.

On resumption of another practice.

On succeeding to another practice.

Public declaration of charges.”

Public exhibition of the baby amounts to none of the above.

The Code also says,

“Printing of self-photograph, or any such material of publicity in the letter head or on sign board of the consulting room or any such clinical establishment shall be regarded as acts of self-advertisement and unethical conduct on the part of the physician.”

The spirit of the above Code flies in the face of what the doctor has done.

The MCI is in the best position to take a call on whether the doctor really violated its Code of Ethics. Any other action from the government will perhaps be excessive – there is no proof that the insensitive exhibitionism affected the medical treatment of the baby. But it is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves to be careful next time and not get carried away by the media glare.

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