IN DEFENSE OF PRISON PHYSICIANS
Medical practitioners in correctional facilities are ideally there not necessarily to preside on the lethal and brutal effects of imprisonment on a dying prisoner but for his treatment and rehabilitation. It is an outright taboo, however, in public perception to provide inmates a respite because they are serving time in prison and ought to deteriorate, fade and unceremoniously be exterminated in the process. Never mind if there is a law protecting human rights specially those under custody of law. It is never operative in the first place. Confer human rights on a prisoner and out rightly, the officer is suspected of coddling his ward. Ignore the welfare of prisoners and most likely, the officer is recognized as objective. That is how things are in this side of criminal justice administration.
Prisoners are never seen as humans in the first place. They are known on the type of offense they were charged and penalized. Never mind if the State mandates rehabilitation, it is never popular and does not carry premium. A prisoner is never a person wanting change and up for repentance; he is better known as murderer, thief, plunderer, rapist, arsonist, robber, paedophile, etc. No, the offender is not serving time to cleanse and repay society; he is there as an exhibit, to be exploited, debased and humiliated until his sanity snaps. Society actually developed heinous crimes by pushing offenders towards hostility and hatred. Once released, a prisoner has been planted with the seed of monstrosity and wickedness.
Medical practitioners took the Hippocratic Oath as commitment; that is, to practice medicine HONESTLY. And by its term, serving anyone, hero or heel, saint or sinner, protagonist or villain, anyone as long as healing is needed, they are there. Prison physicians are a special lot. Only a few would dare get into the prison service. They are exposed to the hazards of the prison community, open to contagion, threat and epidemic. Their offices are repository of prison brutality, sanctuary of villains, comforters of troubled, oftentimes violent and insane personalities. Even if the world would rule that prisoners must suffer and die, prison physicians are there to take the cudgels for life and welfare. A physician indeed is an anti hero in the prison setting.
Let us review the recent case on the so called VIP scandal. Accordingly, drug lords and bank robber (see the labelling?) were allowed to seek medical intervention in an outside hospital. There ought to be a clearance whenever this procedure is allowed. But there are exemptions like when there is an emergency situation obtaining; that is, a case where the life of an inmate is endangered, where life and limb are at stake. It is sufficient that after the emergency referral, a post referral report is immediately submitted for information and reference. These are administrative matters laid down to obviate any possibility of abuse by any prison officer tasked on the matter of handling prisoners.
Medical practitioners in prison, like all physicians, have wide latitude of decision making though. They can submit their medical opinion for reckoning. If in their estimation a person needs medical intervention in an outside hospital, then their word should be taken at face value. If on the other hand the hospital from where an inmate was sent would have a contrary medical opinion citing that the patient is not an emergency case, then the hospital can just send back the referral. Patients receive medical opinions one after another. One physician’s opinion may alarm a patient but when given another opinion from another physician with another diagnostic view may have a relaxing result. Not every opinion should carry definitive outlook but nonetheless, physicians have that capacity and training to determine the level of a patient’s condition. That should never be taken against any physician.
What makes the referral equation ticklish however is the malice on the label. If a patient who was previously charged for drug offense and therefore labelled as drug lord is sent for outside referral, the inference is that the physician is on the take already. This is unfair. If referral is based on label, then Hippocratic Oath takes a back seat in favour of hypocrisy.
If we really care about our professionals, if we really care about prisoners, then let us build a good hospital where facilities, medicine, technology can be made available for all types of ailments. If not, then we can just expand the area intended as cemetery. Better, execute all offenders (although I disagree with this). That way, the State does not spend so much for the maintenance of those unfortunately labelled according to their penalized offense. And those professionals in their midst, like prison physicians, would no longer be suspected and their skills devoted entirely to the benefit of the free community.