Last August, leaving sick patients behind, doctors protested at a rally amid COVID-19. The law states that doctors’ leaving work to protest is prohibited since doctors are involved in public health. In fact, the Korea Railroad Corporation was convicted illegal after a four-day protest because the protest “was held in an unexpected time, was done unilaterally, and caused a gigantic amount of loss or disturbance”. For the fact that the corporation did announce a protest beforehand, the judges added “because the corporation is a compulsory public service, it was not expected for them to really do conduct a protest since it is already known to be against the law” Before describing the protest, itself, the reporter wishes to point out the doctors’ ethical lacks during the protest.
[ Background information ]
The protesters insisted that the four upcoming policies be abolished. These are known as, the so-called “The Four Evils”: more medical workforce, the establishmen of public medical schools, health insurance cover for the traditional medicine, and online medical treatment. Among them, the establishment of the public medical schools was what mainly provoked the protest.
[Public medical school?]
Both geographical access and treatment quality of rural hospitals are poor. This is mostly because rural regions lack a skilled medical workforce and infrastructure. New doctors do not favor rural hospitals due to the lack of infrastructure and simultaneously rural hospitals do not invest in themselves.
Hence the government came up with the idea to promote public medical schools to develop infrastructures in rural hospitals and to forcefully deploy public doctors to the most needed regions. The vague proposals were first made in 2013, and more practical schemes were released in 2018.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, the need for higher qualities of medical institutions for public health was emphasized. The government commenced the policy on July 23. However, the Korean Medical Association (KMA) objected, and announced a protest. Despite continuous discussions, protests were held. Only medical residents and interns refused to work initially, but later all the doctors joined the protest. Medical students also protested by not attending the national medical examination.
What was worse is that another wave of COVID-19 struck on August 15. However, with the government persistent on the issue, the KMA still protested for three days from August 26 to 28. Emergency departments, intensive care units, and COVID-19 testing centers did not operate and patients who needed urgent attention were left untreated.
Finally, the government decided to back down and promised to postpone the policy until the COVID-19 situation settles.
[ Ethical Wrongs ]
Cancer surgeries were delayed, and some COVID-19 testing units closed. There were two innocent deaths due to the insensitive protest. On August 26, a man with simple over-dose searched for an available emergency room by contacting six university hospitals and seven medical institutions 20 times in total but died the following day. In another situation that result in a death; a man suffering a sudden cardiac arrest searched for an available emergency room for 42 minutes, but he died before getting to the hospital. If it were not for the protest, they would have been treated at a nearby emergency room immediately.
During the protest, the KMA posted the slogan on the right publicly. Many people were unhappy, saying it was insensitive for them to post such a discriminative slogan for the doctor-tobe. The KMA removed the slogan immediately and apologized. Besides, the doctors also showed a lack of gender recognition as only male doctors were drawn on the public poster used in the protests.
The medical students used the “refusing to take tests” position as a bargaining tool, but now they have asked the government to hold the national medical test again. The government rejected the idea due to the unfairness facing other national tests. Ironically, the medical school students, who put the public health behind them in order to promote their own good, now concern that there will be an absence of certified doctors.
The doctors violated three types of medical laws once they refused to treat patients due to the protest. What doctors chose to deal with the laws was cheating; the KMA officially suggested that the doctors pretend as if they were taking a holiday during the protest. They neglected their responsibilities when they protested and broke the law.
Protests in general means taking a risk for the greater good and facing the chance of losing your occupation and getting sued. It was almost a public threat for the doctors to protest since doctors are irreplaceable in a pandemic situation.
On the right is a declaration a doctor makes in a graduation ceremony. The pandemic was the wrong time to focus on their own good, especially upon a policy that has been under discussion for seven years. The government was willing to talk and patients needed them more than ever. The protest did not provide any alternatives for a way to ensure the future public health and how to relieve the regional medical imbalance.
Heo Cha-ryeong, Cub-reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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