No endorsements for ethics

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

back in the 20th century, when nation-building was not a foul term and public-private partnership was not a keyword, children grew up with the ideal of becoming doctors and engineers. Medicine was a noble profession. With changing times, commerce has become more reliable as an instrument of healthcare than nobility; medical insurance sounds more reasonable than the Hippocratic oath.

But the practice of medicine is still believed to be governed by ethics, because a visit to the doctor remains a matter of trust. A physician's endorsement is guaranteed by social acceptance, not by a contract or tort law. It is in this light that the Indian Medical Association's endorsement of products must be viewed. (Read more...)

Companies seek such endorsements on their labels to gain the customer's trust. But the labels do not tell the customers the endorsement is on the strength of a payment made to health awareness programmes of the non-profit association. It also does not say that IMA does not test the claims a company makes, and that its endorsement is based on data the company provides.

The regulatory body of the sector, the Medical Council of India, is not interested in enforcing its authority, although its norms state expressly that its members should not endorse any commercial product. Most doctors working with the council are also members of the association.

The conflict of interest is too obvious. The medical profession in India is in the throes of privatization, but there is no malpractice cover for the citizens. This means the private healthcare industry uses subsidies--like cheap land--created to support public healthcare, charges patients at will, and has zero accountability.

And this industry is being promoted at the cost of public healthcare in a country with a large population of poor people and starvation deaths.

A thin, thin line THE ancient Greek story-teller Aesop would have had little trouble finding characters if he were writing his fables today. He surely would have found many boys who cry wolf. Day after day we read scientific reports pointing to an ever-worsening future for us on the earth. The point has been made forcefully, but somehow things do not seem to change. For some activists the inertia becomes too unbearable, ushering in the law of diminishing returns the more we hear a message the less compelling it seems to become.

Resorting to hyperbole is an obvious choice. The pressure group Greenpeace sees no harm in emotionalizing issues (Read more...). But the beast is already home for dinner and very few seem to be listening to Greenpeace.

The importance of emotion, however, need not be undermined in either social activism or academics. Without the passion for knowledge of a series of academics who helped us understand the Indus Valley civilization, we would be so much the poorer (Read more...). And it would require a lot of academic passion to crack the Indus script. But the line between passion and dogma is a thin one. It was dogma that led two historians to fake a discovery of the elusive Indus script a few years ago.

Mission moon foreclosed THE reason for India's moon mission's end 14 months ahead of schedule must be made public and debated (Read more...). Science often suffers in India because there in not adequate informed discussion. Governments contribute liberally to this by either hiding failures or blaming externalities (remember the foreign hand?).

Till ISRO releases the findings of its investigations, there will be much discussion on the reasons for the mission's failure. Because ISRO is publicly funded, its decisions must be open to public scrutiny. If the decision to add a probe with an imprint of a national flag was behind the failure, vain nationalism should not stop us from accepting our mistake and then looking ahead.

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