April 17, 2024

When doctors are dictators

Hi there,

Our lead story today is (I confess) a bit dated, but nonetheless important. It concerns a female gynaecologist and government minister in the Indian state of Gujarat who was sentenced last year for orchestrating a murderous riot in which 96 Muslims perished – as well as arson, beatings and rape. It came to my attention in the latest issue of the very interesting Indian Journal of Medical Ethics

Which raises the interesting question of whether doctors who are politicians will always be more respectful of human rights. I’m thankful to a BMJ discussion forum for compiling a list of doctors who also led nations. While there are some admirable men and women among them, there seem to be a high proportion of rogues.

The list includes Bashar al-Assad, of Syria, an opthalmologist who has presided over a civil war which has cost 70,000 lives (so far) and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the elusive head of al-Qaeda. There is Hastings Banda, former president of Malawi*, who was notorious for corruption, and Che Guevara, the controversial Cuban/Argentinean guerrilla leader. There was George Habash, the PLO terrorist leader, and Radovan Karadžić, a psychiatrist who was the president of the Bosnian Serb Republic. He is currently being tried for genocide at the Hague.

There are other more beneficent rulers, quite a number of them. But it does seem that a course in medicine does not inoculate doctors against violence and oppression. They are human, after all.

* Formerly, we said Zambia. Editors, too, are human, after all. 

Michael Cook
The record is not good.