Doctors individually cannot endorse products but collectively can. That’s the latest from MCI
Pankaj Kumar | March 27, 2014
The Medical Council of India (MCI) is facing yet another controversy – this time for its move to dilute the code of ethics for doctors.
The apex body monitoring medical practice in the country proposes to reduce its own jurisdiction and exempt associations of doctors from the code of conduct binding on individual doctors. In other words, a doctor must not (for example) endorse a commercial product like a toothpaste, but an association of doctor can – in return for money, of course.
The MCI executive committee has tinkered with Clause 6.8 of the code of medical ethics regulation 2002 which relates to a “code of conduct for doctors and professional association of doctors in their relationship with pharmaceutical and allied health sector industry”. The executive committee in its meeting on February 18 recommended the council to delete the term “association of doctors” from the clause. It also said that any action MCI took against any association of doctors under clause 6.8 would now be nullified. Now MCI in its general body meeting on March 28 is expected to take a final call on this.
In particular, the move will nullify the MCI action against the Indian Medical Association (IMA) – a body of doctors – for endorsing products such as Quaker Oats and Tropicana Juice of PepsiCo and Odomos cream, gel and lotion of Dabur India. The action had come on the basis of a complaint from Dr KV Babu, an ophthalmologist, in 2008, and he is leading the criticism of the latest move.
Dr Babu has written to the MCI chairman urging him to reconsider the move. “Endorsement is not permissible under the code of ethics, which says that no doctor ought to endorse any commercial product or drug. I pointed it out because I, being a member of IMA, never wanted to be the part of this decision,” says Dr Babu who has also drawn attention of leading MPs and lawyers to the issue.
Another whistleblower doctor, Kunal Saha, an NRI originally from Kolkata who has been fighting to clean up the public health system, says, “This was expected because everyone knows the relation between MCI and IMA. Once again MCI has been taken over by cronies of Ketan Desai. Some of the members of IMA are in the council and they have always been helping Desai in the World Medical Council and on other platforms directly or indirectly.”
Former MCI secretary Dr Sangeeta Sharma too says it a bad move as it will provoke doctors to form associations through which they can merrily endorse any product for money, cheating consumers and patients. “This move brings disrepute to the organisation. I was member of the ethics committee when the decision against the endorsement was taken. This was as per law. But now it seems there is a conflict of interest, as members who were part of IMA are now members of MCI,” adds Sharma.
What is worse is that MCI has taken a stand now that is diametrically opposite to the one it took in a court matter earlier. When a doctor named Dharam Prakash approached the Delhi high court against the MCI decision to punish him, the council had defended its move on the basis of Clause 6.8 – in its non-amended version.
There are other problems with amending the clause. “How can MCI act against any erring private colleges now? They are established under the Society Registration Act 1860 and Indian Trust Act. Can they admit they have no power to act against them because they are a society not an individual?” asks Dr Mukesh Yadav, a convener of ‘Quality of Medical Education’.
Amit Kumar, a supreme court lawyer who has served on an MCI panel before, says, “The new interpretation given by the council is not correct in law. It is clearly an erroneous interpretation as whatever one cannot do directly cannot be done indirectly either."
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