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The strike weapon

The murder of an innocent woman doctor in the deep South has shocked the entire country. It is a crime that seems to have been committed for no reason at all by a suspect who had been angered by the way the doctor asked him to follow certain manners and procedures.

We are sure that Police are working earnestly to nab the culprit, who is said to be in hiding fearing the wrath of the villagers and the long arm of the law. But is it right for the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) to demand that the suspect be arrested within 48 hours even before the Police could launch a formal investigation ?

Even if such a demand is justifiable is it morally correct to call for a strike over the issue within such a short period ? The GMOA has threatened to call a doctors' strike unless a suspect responsible for the killing is arrested.

Yesterday doctors and medical officers at the particular hospital concerned failed to report for duty according to the media. A countrywide strike is to follow if no arrest is made by the deadline.

This is not the first time that the GMOA has flexed its muscles to browbeat the authorities to succumb to its demands, never mind the lives of the patients.

It is essential that the strike weapon should be used prudently if it is to have any effect. Here the GMOA is in effect holding a holding a gun at the head of the Government to arrest the suspect on pain of strike action while the patients are being reduced to helpless bystanders.

By what stretch of the imagination could a professional body such the GMOA draw a co-relation between the arrest of a crime suspect, however horrendous the crime may be, and patients' welfare ?

The GMOA has been known for its ultimatums even in the past. What will be the position if the Government is put in the dock for every crime and misdemeanour over which it has no control, in all state institutions ? Does it mean all activity in the state sector will be crippled by strikes until the issue is resolved by the State ?

It is obvious to any right thinking person that an islandwide hospital strike is disproportionate to the issue at hand. True, members of the GMOA must be justly aggrieved at the callous murder of one of their fraternity and the Government should do everything in its power to bring the culprit to book as soon as possible.

It also should take emergency measures to arrest the growing incidents of crime. But authorities cannot be allowed to be browbeaten in this fashion even by an elite group of professionals such as the GMOA.

In no way can one justify the action planed by the GMOA to resort to the type of action they have threatened - getting their members to down tools by attaching vicarious liability to the Government for the crime.

True, the Police may be faulted for not acting on the complaint made by the doctor against the suspect on a previous occasion. But this laxity on the part of the police cannot be an excuse to penalise the innocent patients for no fault of theirs.

Besides it is akin to blackmail and reminiscent of strike action of private us operators at the drop of a hat. A prestigious body such as the GMOA should think twice before plunging into precipitate action of this nature.

The public expects much more from this fraternity who has taken an oath to protect the sick and the suffering. This should preceded all parochial considerations. True, the GMOA too has justifiable grievances and any concession to the doctors would not be begrudged by members of the public.

But by acting in this manner they risk losing this respect shown to them by the public. Doctors are an exceptional breed and ought to conduct themselves as befits an elite profession. The GMOA has won many of its demands through agitation campaigns in recent times and there is no reason why the Government would not meet any justifiable demands of the medical profession.

The GMOA hierarchy it is hoped would reconsider their decision and conduct itself as a true professional body that would earn the respect and regard of the public. Making patients suffer for no fault of theirs is not the ideal way to win such confidence.

Their strike call also comes at crucial time when the Security Forces are poised to capture the LTTE citadel with intensified battles on the cards. An islandwide strike by doctors at such a crucial time is not the ideal way to boost the morale of the troops. By resorting to such tactics the GMOA could also risk losing its bargaining clout.

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