| The Nation / Tue, February 28, 2006 |
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Re-examining the law books
The Public Health Ministry and the Medical Council are considering decriminalising what they call "unintentional mistakes" in medical treatment.
A team of legal experts at the ministry is studying the feasibility of excluding medical errors from criminal law, Dr Manit Peeratantikanont, the ministry's deputy permanent secretary, said. It is expected to reach a conclusion in the next few weeks, he said.
"In abortion cases, for example, judging whether or not a medical mistake should be treated as a crime is dependent on intent," said Dr Somsak Lolekha, the president of the Medical Council.
In the United States, for instance, patients are allowed to file complaints with the civil court for financial compensation, but they are not allowed to file with the criminal court, except in cases of "gross negligence", he said.
Punishing doctors for making mistakes does not do any good. It might even scare them away from getting involved with high-risk procedures such as surgery, Somsak said.
"Would putting a doctor in jail for making a mistake achieve anything? No," he said.
"No doctor wants to hurt or kill a patient. They try their best, but sometimes they are unsuccessful. It is illogical to treat them like murderers," Somsak said.
Although the proposal to amend the law has largely been agreed by the medical profession and with Public Health Minister Pinij Charusombat, there is a long way to go, said Somsak, adding that it could take years to get the law amended.
"At the very least we intend to make it happen," he said.
But not everyone agrees.
"It's not going to happen," said Dollaporn Lorsermvattana, head of the Thai Iatrogenic Network, an NGO dedicated to the interests of victims of medical malpractice.
"No patient wants to see a doctor facing criminal charges," she said, "but why should medical professionals be given such a privilege?" Although doctors may not intend to make mistakes, they still have to be responsible for their "negligence", she said.
The criminal complaint is also a mechanism for malpractice victims to protect themselves, Dollaporn said, adding that the validity of complaints should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Arthit Khwankhom, The Nation
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