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A question of ethics

The Editor,

People utterly in need, trying desperately to get help, but being rejected at

the gates - doesn't that evoke memories of grim times, which we thought belonged

to the past?

It seems quite odd that Kantha Bopha Hospital, constructed at a cost of millions

of dollars and offering its much lauded health care of international standard, is,

according to its director, not able to give first aid to patients suffering from

life-threatening conditions.

Whereas in Europe (I guess also in Switzerland) in comparable cases every passer-by

would be obliged to try to give assistance according to his abilities, the director

of a haven of medical care claims that he and his staff were "too busy"

to provide help. Not a single physician, not a single nurse, not a single driver

could be dispatched to help victims bleeding to death a hundred meters away from

Kantha Bopha? It's hard to imagine that hospitalized children would have died of

Japanese encephalitis during the time that any emergency aid was given. And while

the last victims struggled with death in the burning sun, while ordinary moto-taxi

drivers tried to forward them to medical attention as best they could, the director

of the nearest hospital preferred to give a cello concert.

"Lack of professionalism", "insult", "nonsense-talking",

"sick of jealousy": these stereotypical responses are too often heard in

the face of criticism, and they reveal nothing more than a dangerous lack of judgment.

(The director's comment, by the way, that Kantha Bopha is "the only expatriate

NGO project in the health sector, which is really working ... without corruption"

is, of itself, insulting and surprising coming from someone of such tender sensibilities.)

Dr Richner likes to stress at every opportunity, appropriate or otherwise, that "white

faces" have no special rights. Correct! But what more than the exercise of a

very special right is expressed in the decision to refuse first aid to Cambodians

on the brink of death? That this decision is stubbornly bolstered with arguments

which seem to gravely lack an appropriate ethical approach, makes the course of events

even more questionable.

Students of medicine are, from the outset, made aware of ethical considerations and

that medical interventions, or the lack thereof, may have penal as well as professional

consequences. One would hope that similar consequences have application in Cambodia

and do not merely represent Western luxury.

- Christoph Bendick, M.D. Phnom Penh.



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