National News

Did AKUH Succumb to Celebrity Pressures or are Friend Requests Grounds for Suspension?

Karachi – Social media has recently been caught up in a tempest of outrage, controversy and heated debate upon the recent suspension of a doctor at the Agha Khan University Hospital. The said doctor has been allegedly suspended from his position on account of sending a friend request to the sister of Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. An investigation is scheduled on Friday, 3rd November to further investigate the matter.

According to Sharmeen, the doctor who tended to her sister when she was admitted into AKUH Emergency ward a few days ago, later sent a friend request to her sister on the ever-popular social networking site Facebook. Sharmeen publicly lashed out at the doctor, tweeting the following remarks to her 167,000 Twitter followers:

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Most people, from celebrities to laymen, have expressed active dislike and distaste for these statements on social media, in particular her labelling the incident as “harassment”.

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It is emphasized by international codes of conduct that attempting to create a personal relationship with a patient goes beyond the bounds of an appropriate doctor-patient environment and breaches the sacred-trust between doctor and patient. Thereby the said doctors’ actions were inarguably unethical. However, did his actions merit the label “harassment” and should the actions taken against him by his place of work be as severe as suspension pending an investigation? Or did AKUH succumb to celebrity pressures and unfairly subject the said doctor to humiliation and threaten his career?

Members of social media have accused Obaid of misusing her celebrity status to blow the news out of proportion and influencing AKUH to take drastic actions. The magnitudes of doing so have resulted in the doctor’s career being gravely threatened, which the majority of nationals feel is an outrageously disproportionate consequence relative to the alleged incident.

According to the PMDC Code of Ethics, the following act of misconduct commission or omission on the part of a medical practitioner shall constitute professional misconduct rendering him/her liable for disciplinary action:

“Any form of sexual advance to a patient with whom there exists a professional relationship. A registered medical practitioner must never use his/her position to pursue a relationship of an emotional or sexual nature with the patient. ”

The following constitute harassment according to the PMDC Code of Ethics:  multiple or persistent acts of abusive verbal language or gestures, demeaning speech, sexual innuendos, sexual solicitation, physical advances, throwing objects and other threatening unacceptable gestures

Thereby, according to the national code of ethics for medical practitioners, the doctor did not in fact, commit harassment. Furthermore, according to guiding principles outlined in the Cybercrime Bill of 2016, the doctor’s actions do not constitute as a cyber-crime. A doctor sending a friend request to his/her patient on Facebook also does not constitute as a crime under the Pakistan Penal Code.

Moreover, Facebook’s privacy policy and privacy settings allow all individuals to choose who can add them as a friend on Facebook, with a dedicated option which prevents everybody from sending friend requests. Which, of course, is a setting which Obaid’s sister had not implemented, as she received the friend request. Based on this finding, sending a friend request to an individual who intentionally allows any member of Facebook to add them, does not constitute as harassment.

These findings indicate that, even though it was an indisputably inappropriate and unethical action, there are no solid grounds to jeopardize the job, and essentially life-long career, of a doctor who sent his patient a friend request on Facebook.

Upon speaking to Obaid personally on the matter, a senior Pakistani dentist has issued the following public statements:

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“Have talked to Sharmeen Obaid (Thank you) and she has clarified – this issue she clearly says is NOT about FACEBOOK request but more how insecure  women feel when visiting a doctor in the hospital and then find it repulsive to have been asked to engage beyond the Doctor-Patient sacred environment – I stand by the arugment that this needs to be changed – and commend her for giving a voice to this issue.

She has clarified that the doctor was NOT named (she could have) but choose to debate the issue, The investigation is underway and the doctor is suspended (not fired, pending investigation) I applaud AKU for addressing this issue.”

This incident has demonstrated an astounding example of the consequences of social media influence. Individuals with celebrity status and influence also have the responsibility to be role models, rather than issue reckless statements in the midst of an emotional reaction which could not only threaten the livelihood of a professional but also tarnish the national image.

October 29, 2017

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