The case of the doctor-couple in Tamil Nadu who allowed their teenager son to perform a caesarean operation is worrying for more than one reason. While it is inarguable that parents should encourage their children’s abilities and skills, it’s equally important to acknowledge that it is the parents’ responsibility to set appropriate limits within which the wards use such skills. In the latest instance, the Class X student seems to have carried out the controversial surgery last April on a 20-year-old woman under the supervision of his father, a general surgeon, and mother, an obstetrician. The father’s insistence later that he himself carried out the operation and the boy had only “helped” him notwithstanding, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has done the right thing to take the doctor couple to task. For it is appalling that professional surgeons should turn to promoting inexperienced wannabes — however talented — to carry out medical practices in this manner.
In any case, if they believed their ward was so talented, the parents could have taken recourse to other means to encourage him. Weren’t they aware of the existence of high-fidelity patient simulators that let aspiring surgeons safely upgrade their skills in anything from general suturing to natal resuscitation techniques without having to fumble around on — or in — live patients? Besides indirectly encouraging quackery, such real-life Dexters have the potential to further damage the doctor-patient relationship in India, which is already under a lot of strain. Of late, there have been an increasing number of cases of patients suing doctors for negligence and dragging them to court at the drop of a stethoscope. With doctors looking over their shoulders at the controversial Consumer Protection Act every time they wield a scalpel, or write a prescription, it is no surprise that the relationship has soured. Incidents like the one from Tamil Nadu will speed up this erosion.
Doctors are the primary source of public knowledge about diseases and health issues, and any inadequacy or negligence on their part translates into poor medical practice at the community level. As a result, the concept of patient management and even technical advances in medicine that could have meant a better quality of life for patients, with increased longevity and falling mortality levels, have become casualties.