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President's Message - September 2008: Medical Profession and Human Rights

Date: 29 September 2008

The past few months we have witnessed the financial crisis in America and political crisis in Thailand. The bailout of large corporations in America and the proposed USD700 Billions of government bail-out, which is going to be used by the United States government, is 20 times more than Malaysia’s national reserve. In Thailand, thousands of civilians took over the compound of Prime Minister Samak's office, the Government House, on Aug. 26 and remain camped there, refusing to budge until he quits.

I would like to say that Malaysia also has her share of crisis. People are more aware of their rights and equally important of others rights. As a medical professional where should we stand in nation building? Louis Virchow said, "If medicine is to fulfil our greatest task, then she must enter the political and social life." Lawyers, journalists and politicians have widely recognised roles in defending human rights. But doctors also have an interest because of their involvement in alleviating suffering. Victims of war and torture need medical care, but doctors' responsibilities to the issues of human rights extend beyond treating individual patients. Medicine has a complicated relation with human rights - doctors can be victims, healers and violators.

Some of us may wish that medicine was completely apolitical, but the long and tumultuous association of the profession with advocacy and abuse of human rights shows that this is not pragmatic. Nor is it accurate to think about human rights as a purely political problem. After all, if health is a human right and if violation of any other human right directly violates the right to health, is there any justification in doctors staying away from human rights because they are merely a political matter? Many medical professionals, including students, already know where they stand on human rights - especially if it interferes with their ability to care for their patients. Respect for human rights is integral to medical practice and indispensable to health.

Our first priority is to give optimum care for our patients. It is equally important to be mindful of the health of the nation. We should be an agent of change and play an important role in our capacity as a physician in nation building. We should stand for what is right and reach out for the underprivileged and suppressed. Time to get involved.

I would like to end by quoting Charles Darwin, "Of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important…It is summed up in the short but imperious word ought, so full of high significance. It is the most noble of all attributes of man, leading him without a moment’s hesitation to risk his life for that of a fellow-creature; or after due deliberation, impelled simply by the deep feeling of right or duty, to sacrifice it in some great cause."

We are going to celebrate two festivals in October, I would like to take this opportunity to wish our Muslim readers, "Selamat Hari Raya" and Hindu readers, "Happy Deepavali".

Best regards,

Dr. Yen Teck Hoe
President of MPA 2008-2010

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