Saturday, May 19, 2007

Court continues with trial to have medical law reviewed

Thursday, April 12, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Constitutional Court decided Wednesday to continue a trial involving a petition for a judicial review of the 2004 Law on Medical Practices.

The petition regards articles in the law that plaintiffs claim have infringed on the rights of both doctors and patients to provide and receive medical treatment.

The plaintiffs -- six specialist doctors and a patient -- claimed that five articles of the law were in conflict with the doctor's oath.

They said the articles deterred doctors from practicing, limited patients' access to services offered by doctors and also conflicted with the 1945 Constitution.

The petition was initially filed by Anny Isfandyarie Sarwono, a doctor from Malang, East Java, on March 9, 2007. She later won support from five more doctors and a diabetic patient who joined her as plaintiffs during the second Constitutional Court hearing on Wednesday.

They said that Article 37 of the law, which limits a doctor to practicing at a maximum of only three locations, did not take into consideration the differences in access to medical services throughout the country or the ratio of doctors to citizens.

"Whoever produced this law has closed their eyes to the fact that the ratio of doctors to people is very low and that the number of specialists is very limited," said Sumali, a lawyer representing one of the plaintiffs, during the hearing.

Recent data from the Indonesian Doctors Council shows that there are 63,116 doctors in Indonesia, which sets the ratio of doctors to people at 1:3,500. The ideal ratio is one doctor per 2,500 people.

Sumali said the law is feasible for big cities where there are many doctors, but was not suitable for many regions where doctors are lacking.

"There should be an exception. The lawmakers should have known that there are no laws that do not have exceptions," he said.

He also said that articles 75, 76 and 79 of the law had turned those doctors and dentists who are operating without a license, were not registered with local authorities and did not display sign-boards at their respective practices into criminals.

"Why would they be threatened with three years in jail or a Rp 100 million (about US$10,900) fine for a possible violation that cannot be referred to as crime, but rather as an administrative violation?" Sumali asked.

"These articles conflict with the obligations of the (medical) profession that require doctors to help anybody they possibly can. It is excessive and, therefore, is against the Constitution," Sumali told the hearing.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari, who appeared in court representing the government, disagreed with the plaintiffs and insisted that the articles of the law do not conflict with the doctor's oath or obstruct doctors from fulfilling their professional responsibilities.

"The government is aware of the ratio between doctors and people, but the law is aimed at providing better health services to the people and also at protecting doctors from carrying out false treatment due to weariness or exhaustion. Doctors are only human," Siti said during the trial.

Faiq Bahfen, the Health Ministry's inspector general, who also testified at the trial, said the law was designed to protect patients from unprofessional, mistake-prone treatment, to improve the quality of health services and to provide legal certainty for doctors and patients.

The Constitutional Court will summon more expert witnesses from several health-related institutions, and also allow the government as defendant and the plaintiffs to appoint their own expert witnesses to appear in court within the coming week.

Following the submission of the list of experts, the court will decide on a date for the next hearing. (02)

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