In praise of volunteerism
29 May 2006
by Herbert Lewis
Over the past few weeks, I have been touched by the many comments made by those whom many Jamaicans refer to as the 'little man'. And one might very well ask what the 'little man's' comments are about.
The comments were about a news item which appeared on one of our television's evening newscast. It concerned a small boy who needs surgery to one of his eyes to remove what was reported to be a cataract. From the report, if he does not have the surgery, he is likely to lose both eyes. His parents are poor. They do not have the money to pay a doctor. The cost of the surgery is $60,000.
The question being asked by many people who saw the newscast is whether there is any doctor out there who also saw the newscast. There are many Jamaicans who refuse to believe that in this day and age for the sake of $60,000, a doctor could feel comfortable with himself or herself to see a child lose his sight because his parents are unable to find the money to pay for the surgery.
Not an unusual case
As funny as it may sound to those who seem surprised, this is not an unusual case. My understanding is that there are doctors out there who even refuse to treat a fellow doctor's family member unless the money is paid up front. Yes, indeed, times have changed, and changed for the worse in many places. The question is: Where have the oaths of some of our doctors gone? Or are those oaths meaningless things of the past?
It has often been lamented that Jamaicans are not very good at volunteering themselves for worthy causes. But this is not necessarily so in all cases. Most volunteers do so quietly and efficiently, and the public is often unaware of the immense contributions they are making. Don't get me wrong. There are a number of volunteers who are helping the disabled and the elderly, and it is heart-warming to note that of the volunteers, many are in the medical profession.
Doctors are often the front line for problems faced by the disadvantaged in our society. The disadvantaged are diagnosed and their disability assessed by medical practitioners. The elderly are more prone to illnesses and often seek doctors for help. Faced with these cries, it is natural to expect those whose calling is to alleviate suffering, to respond in a positive way.
Like all of us, doctors have their obligations to meet. Many have children to send to school, rent or mortgage to pay loans to repay, etc. But not withstanding all these things, there are some who need to stop for a while and look at their professional behaviour.
Money is important yes but it can't be the 'be all and end all'. Don't quarrel with me for this article. Take some time and listen to what the public is saying about some doctors. Many are giving this honourable profession a very, very bad name.
There is a professional body out there which I understand sets rules and regulations for its members (the Medical Association of Jamaica). It is not enough to have policies. It is not enough to have rules and regulations. It is not enough to have procedures. It is not enough to have good intentions. All of these can help. But to be successful and meaningful, all this must be embedded in a culture of ethics. This, therefore, might be a good time for the Medical Association to take a look at its members' behaviour and remind them of the fact that their professional conduct is at stake. And that their calling is to alleviate suffering.
The medical profession often gets bad press when a small number of doctors behave in a selfish or anti-social manner. The good which many doctors do voluntarily, often goes unnoticed because of those who pull down the profession through selfishness and sometimes greed. I think it would not hurt to let the public know that some doctors do have a heart.
People do talk about their experiences and quite often they lament the fact that many of our doctors who behave in unprofessional ways derived their education from public funding - from the taxes paid by some of those whom they refuse to treat or from those whom they will not treat unless the fees are up front, before they are treated.
God knows that many of our sick are unable to buy their medication after they have paid the doctor's fees. I recently heard an elderly gentleman asking a pharmacist the cost of medication which was prescribed for him. When he was told the cost, his response was: "Give me a half of it." He could not afford it.
Note to deviants
Finally, may I suggest to those whose behaviour leaves room for improvement, that in your quiet moments, when you are alone, ask yourself these questions:
We all have a duty, not a choice, to treat people as people, with respect, benevolence and love. Remember too that life has relevance to our community and our country. Value it. Our lives are all gifts from the Great Creator of the universe. Let us share this gift as freely and generously as possible.
Herbert Lewis is an industrial relations specialist and former president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation.