Since beginning its four-year term last year, the 20th National Assembly has proposed as many as 50 amendment bills to the Medical Service Act. Most were aimed to add reasons for suspending doctors’ qualifications or canceling their licenses, triggering fierce opposition of the medical community each time.
For example, Rep. Choi Do-ja of the opposition People’s Party tabled an amendment that would enable suspending the license of a doctor who neglected to report a known abuse of a child, older adult or disabled person. The bill would add this failure to the list of reasons for canceling a license.
The existing law in particular cases concerning the punishment of child abuse crimes and others like it requires doctors and other medical personnel, including medical technicians, to report discovered or suspected cases of child abuse to a child protection agency or investigation agency immediately, and charges a penalty of up to 5 million won ($4,450) on those who fail to report without a valid reason.
This amendment strengthens sanctions to suspend a neglectful medical worker’s medical license within six months.
The doubt about this bill starts with the question whether imposing yet another responsibility on doctors is fair or not. If a physician is the guardian of the public interest, imposing these public duties on a doctor’s qualification is understandable. Let’s take the example of a lawyer. The Attorney-at-Law Act required lawyers to advocate basic human rights and to realize social justice as part of their mission. The law also calls for them to maintain social order, and work to reform the legal system.
But the medical law only views doctors as “having the mission of improving national health and contribute to securing citizens’ healthy lives.” The recent amendments to the law and the court’s rulings make it seem that the people and judiciary expect more from doctors than that.
Besides, according to the bill, physicians and medical personnel should report known and suspected cases of abuse if they don’t have a valid reason not to do so, to avoid the license suspension. However, the medical law also has provisions about medical personnel’s confidentiality obligation, creating potential conflicts of duties. Article 19 of the Medical Service Act prohibits medical personnel from leaking or announcing information about others they learned about while writing electronic medical records and other documents. Violators of this article face at least three years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 30 million won ($26,700) and two months of license suspension.
Under these circumstances, not many doctors will risk violating their duty of confidentiality to report an abuse case based only on their suspicion. Considering this point, questions arise about the fairness of suspending licenses for failing to report child and other abuses, and the effectiveness of legislation strengthening such sanctions.
Recent amendments prompt me to first look back on what social problems existed when this amendment was initiated.
To name a few, singer Shin Hae-chul’s death from a medical accident prompted the revision of the Act on Remedies for Injuries from Medical Malpractice and Mediation of Medical Disputes, which calls for the forceful initiation of arbitration for some medical accidents.
Also, in the aftermath of discovering a substitute plastic surgery at an unnamed Gangnam hospital, a revision was made to require medical personnel to wear name badges, while a massive Hepatitis C infection caused by a clinic reusing disposable syringes led to revision for stricter regulations on reusing disposable medical needles.
Of course, lawmaking can’t be flawless, and I’m not denying that we should supplement legislative void by amending laws in keeping with the passage of the times. What I’m concerned about is the recent trend, in which lawmakers make moves – too instantly and too extemporally – to amend medical laws and regulations concerning cases that draw high public attention.
We must wait to see if this amendment will win parliamentary approval, but I can’t help expressing frustration that some regulatory legislations, especially ones regarding qualification suspension and license cancellations -- essential to a medical worker’s occupation -- should be considered more carefully.
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