Most doctors work for years to achieve certifications, competence, money and social status. But as headlines in Australian newspapers this week showed, it’s possible to spend no time at all. An Indian national named Shyam Acharya slipped into the country in 2002 and stole the identity of an Indian doctor named Sarang Chitale, who is currently a respected rheumatologist in the north of England. Mr Acharya was registered as a doctor in 2003 and worked at a number of hospitals in and around Sydney for a decade. He then moved into the private sector and worked for AstraZeneca and then Novotech, a company which runs clinical trials.
It was only then that his luck ran out. Late last year Novotech realised that something was amiss with his qualifications and reported him to Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and the police. But by that time Mr Acharya had disappeared. Presumably he has returned to India, but his whereabouts are unknown.
The good news is that in 10 years or so working as a doctor, only one patient lodged a complaint about the quality of his work. However, one doctor told the media that he was not highly regarded by his colleagues in an emergency department when he worked with him in 2003. "I wouldn't have taken his assessments for face value. He had a reputation of being very fast and not very thorough."
The scandal has renewed calls for more thorough vetting of immigrants and of overseas doctors.
A State Senator in Hawaii, Breene Harimoto gave an emotional address this week to persuade his colleagues to vote against a bill for legalising physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. He said that in 2015 he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has a low survival rate and can be quite painful. But he was cured. “It is a miracle that I am still alive,” he said.
His point was that “terminal illness” is almost meaningless. Margaret Dore, a Seattle lawyer who lobbied against the bill, recalls an even more dramatic incident. “A few years ago, I was met at the airport by a man who at age 18 or 19 had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and given 3 to 5 years to live, at which time he would die by paralysis. His diagnosis had been confirmed by the Mayo Clinic. When he met me at the airport, he was 74 years old. The disease progression had stopped on its own."
If Senator Harimoto or Ms Dore’s friend had the option of assisted suicide, they might stopped fighting their disease and chosen a quick death. They would have chopped decades off their lives. “Terminal illness” is a pillar of assisted suicide legislation – and it just doesn’t make sense.
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