No plastering over this blemish
Published on Apr 12, 2014 6:00 AM
The case of a senior doctor who got an elderly employee to lie to the police - so the former could duck two speeding offences - raised issues of considerable import, like lay perception when punishment meted out by the courts fails to assuage public disquiet and proportionality on legal grounds. Attorney-General Steven Chong noted at a forum that in the inglorious case of plastic surgeon Woffles Wu, "much of the furore stemmed from a lack of understanding of criminal procedure and criminal law".
Many views were aired within a few days following Dr Wu's conviction and fine of $1,000 - including a blog by the head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, Mr Hri Kumar Nair, who asked for the grounds of the decision to be made public. The Attorney-General's Chambers subsequently explained why a more serious charge was not preferred on the facts of the case and the need for aggravating features to invite a jail sentence. The matter, including the legal precedents, was also discussed in Parliament two months later where Law Minister K. Shanmugam stressed that no one is above the law.
Few doubt that. Even so, given the dishonesty shown by a professional of some standing, a moral judgment cried out to be articulated, particularly because of the doctor's singular "lack of remorse". That expectation was fulfilled by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) when it suspended the prominent doctor from practice for four months and published the grounds of its decision.
The views of the council should be required reading for practitioners and students alike as it sets out why doctors must be held to account in non-medical matters as well, in this case, for subverting the course of justice. Though ethics in the profession date back to the Hippocratic Oath, one might well wonder why the doctor, with 28 years of experience, gave "no second thought" to his egregious actions and even alleged that other doctors also gave false information for similar offences. Instead of spending part of his suspension on community work or reflecting - perhaps at the Centre for Medical Ethics and Professionalism - on the discussions his case provoked, he reportedly plans to write a musical, play the piano, train for squash tournaments and go on a holiday. Such a response suggests that the SMC's bitter medicine has not had its desired effect. The SMC was right to emphasise that "every medical practitioner is expected to carry the hallmarks of integrity and honesty whether in his professional or personal capacity". The profession must uphold the highest standards if it is to continue to enjoy the trust and respect of the public.