SGH doc gets 12 months' probation for threatening dad

Dr Tham has since recovered and resumed full-time work. She is a director at SGH Life Centre's Obesity and Metabolic Unit.
Dr Tham has since recovered and resumed full-time work. She is a director at SGH Life Centre's Obesity and Metabolic Unit.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

She was suffering from untreated depression with psychotic features when incident happened in 2014

A Singapore General Hospital (SGH) doctor suffering from undiagnosed depression with psychotic features believed she received text messages from God telling her "the end was near and that mankind was receiving what it deserved through the judgment of God".

She also believed that bad luck would strike nine future generations of the family because her 81-year-old doctor-father had broken his pledge to make monthly contributions to their church after he stopped attending it.

When her repeated attempts to persuade him to pay the amount due fell on deaf ears, she threatened him with a knife at his clinic.

Yesterday, Dr Tham Kwang Wei, 43, an SGH senior consultant, was given 12 months' probation; she had admitted to threatening and hurting her father, Dr Tham Ngiap Boo. Dr Tham, who was diagnosed with mental illness after the incident on Sept 30, 2014, had also held her father's neck in an armlock and even bitten him on his arm.

TREAT DEPRESSION EARLY

This case is a stark reminder of the dangers of untreated depression combined with a high workload and personal stress.

COMMUNITY COURT JUDGE MATHEW JOSEPH

An Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist had found a "substantial causal link" between her illness and offences. He said: "Her actions appear to have been driven by psychotic experiences related to her religious or spiritual beliefs, which made her believe that her actions were morally correct."

Community Court Judge Mathew Joseph, in passing the sentence, said: "This is a most unusual case and also a sad case." Dr Tham, he noted, committed the offences due to her previously untreated condition. But she was committed and dedicated to her work. "This case is also a stark reminder of the dangers of untreated depression combined with a high workload and personal stress," he said.

Noting that Dr Tham works at a public hospital, the judge agreed with the prosecution's call for no community service to be imposed.

He expressed his hope for "healing and reconciliation" between Dr Tham and her father. Dr Tham has since recovered and resumed work as a director at SGH Life Centre's Obesity and Metabolic Unit.

The court had heard last year that Dr Tham had approached her father at his clinic in Whampoa Drive, claiming that he owed God $150,000. She told him to give her the money so that she could return it. When he refused, she picked up her father's 18cm-long knife, which was used for cutting pills in the clinic, and held it to his neck.

She told him to give her a cheque for $150,000 or go with her to a bank to withdraw the money. He tried to push her away and called for help. His clinic assistant opened the door but was forced out by Dr Tham. She forced her father onto a chair and held his neck in an armlock. He was struggling and trying to free himself when another clinic employee entered the room and took away the knife. Dr Tham then bit the victim's forearm.

Dr Tham's lawyer, Mr Selva K. Naidu, had said in mitigation that it all began in mid-2013 when Dr Tham's father stopped going to church. She felt that her father's "reneging on his pledge amounted to dishonouring God" and that "untoward things would befall the family and its future generations, starting with the children".

Dr Tham took a bank loan and paid the church eight months of contributions totalling $27,760 in January 2014. She took on extra duties at work to pay this off, her lawyer said.

Three days before the incident, she forged her father's signature on a cheque for $28,030 as she felt she had to retrieve the amount with interest from him. This was taken into consideration during sentencing, along with another charge of being armed with a knife at the clinic.

Mr Naidu had said his client's employer, SGH, was aware of the charges and her psychiatric condition, and had found her fit to continue her practice at the hospital.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'SGH doc gets 12 months' probation for threatening dad'. Print Edition | Subscribe