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Why is this doc under knife?

Why should a wealthy and thriving doctor take recourse to money laundering, asks Meeta Chaitanya.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2005 21:52 IST
ATLANTA DIARY | Meeta Chaitanya
ATLANTA DIARY | Meeta Chaitanya

You would think that in this season of holiday and good cheer, there would be little to ponder over and much to rejoice about. The Diaspora landscape however, has been dotted by the interest garnered by Dr TR Santha's vicissitudes.

Last week, the Medical Board of Georgia suspended the license of Totada R Shanthaveerappa a 70-year-old Stockbridge, GA based NRI doctor for health care fraud-allegedly using insecticides and misbranded products as treatment for his patients as also money laundering. The 87-count indictment issued on Thursday accuses Santha of falsely billing insurance companies.

The case is yet to unravel fully; with Santha all set to appear in court next week. He is likely to plead not guilty. Reportedly, Santha's lawyer Dan Conaway has put forth the case of the doctor as an alternative healer and the Defence's plea is that Santha's clinic, the Integrated Medical Specialist clinic remains open with other doctors continuing practice. As of now, the clinic has not been closed down.

Reportedly, Santha's clinic website states the thrust of his treatment -- 'combining the latest in conventional and alternative modalities for an unsurpassed multi-level attack'. Some people say that successful cancer treatment has to be multi-pronged and there is no harm in applying a holistic approach. It is the use of unapproved medication that makes the case against Santha very strong. In his treatment, he is supposed to have used insecticides (dinitrophenol (DNP) a weed killer) to treat patients.

According to locally published reports, the doctor whose license has now been cancelled has been in practice since 1972, and could appeal the medical board's decision.

Though Dr Santha is conspicuous now because of this development, ironically, as an endorsement of his professional competence, he received the distinguished physician award from the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) at the group's convention in Houston in June.

As the case is being played out on local TV channels beginning on Monday, December 19 -- a parallel counter movement of sorts has also been gaining momentum. Media machinery (including numerous blogs on the net) is being bombarded by the doctor's patients who are turning out in support of him despite the indictment.

Pictures of Nancy Hoffman, a patient who delivered Christmas cookies to Santha saying he saved her life are endorsed by others like Isabell Santos, who came to Santha from Florida, to get treatment for brain and breast cancer.

However, in a press release US Attorney David E Nahmias said, "A doctor's use of unapproved and misbranded drugs poses a grave threat to patients' health. Health care fraud raises the price of health care for all citizens. The allegations in this indictment are serious and will be prosecuted vigorously."

The Indian invasion and proliferation of the medical profession in the US is legendary. Before the recent surge in the technology management sector, Indian immigration picked up in the 1970s with a number of Indian doctors immigrating to the states.

Highly reputed for their technical superiority and text-book excellence, the Indian-American doctor is seen as a class apart even by members of the Indian community abroad- most of whom opt for an Indian-American family physician for reasons practical rather than parochial.

Each time a respectable member of the community, such as TR Santha is 'charged' with grave offence -- some as notorious as the case of Dr Jayant Patel known as 'Dr Death' -- the commonly held notions of the Indian community in the US as being the most well-educated and prosperous with a resounding majority being educated up to Masters receives a shocking reminder of glaring exceptions that threaten this comfortable inertia.

Our per capita income is the highest in the USA. Our educational and income levels are higher than other population groups -- shouldn't that be reason enough for us to continue doing the good and steer clear of wiry temptation and false bravado?

Why should a wealthy and thriving doctor take recourse to such money laundering? Why can't he adhere to and perfect approved methodology? Invention is great, innovation is moving but improvising with weed-killers is just stupid. You don't even need to be a doctor to know that.

First Published: Dec 27, 2005 21:52 IST