Doctors go on strike in Indonesia

JAKARTA - Tens of thousands of doctors across Indonesia walked off their jobs Wednesday, causing clinics to close and hold-ups at hospitals, to demand the release of two doctors convicted of negligence after a patient died in childbirth in Manado, North Sulawesi.

The medical fraternity sees the ruling as unfair, and the Health Ministry agrees.

But others were critical, saying doctors should not get special treatment under the law.

"We are not God, who knows and can do everything. We can only do our best in treating patients. If an unfortunate thing happened, we must not be criminalised as if we had intended to kill a patient," prominent Jakarta-based gynaecologist Noroyono Wibowo told The Straits Times.

Indonesian Doctors' Association (IDI) chairman Zaenal Abidin says the case sets a dangerous precedent that could one day see doctors charged over things that are beyond their control. The IDI is the professional body for the country's 113,000 doctors.

Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said she will file for civil review - the final legal avenue in Indonesia - to overturn the Supreme Court's ruling.

Complaints of medical malpractice have been rising in recent years, but prosecutions and severe penalties are rare.

In this case, patient Julia Fransiska Matakey, 26, died of heart complications resulting from a gas embolism while giving birth by caesarean section in 2010.

A lower court cleared the three obstetricians of negligence. But the Supreme Court overturned the ruling in September last year, finding them guilty and sentencing them to 10 months in jail.

When they did not show up to begin their jail terms, they were declared fugitives. Two of the doctors have been detained, while a third is still at large.

The IDI took out a full-page advertisement in the Jawa Pos daily Wednesday ahead of the protest.

They apologised in advance for disrupting medical services and assured the public that emergency services would not be affected.

There was widespread media coverage - and public criticism - of the doctors' protests. In Lamongan, East Java, pregnant women were attended to by general practitioners and midwives as gynaecologists protested.

"Doctors have a right to defend their rights, but while doing so, they should not breach other people's rights.

"It is the citizens' rights to get medical treatment when they need it," Ms Indah Suksmaningsih, former chairman of Indonesian Consumers Foundation, told The Straits Times.

On Wednesday, doctors from Jakarta and from other cities such as Palembang and Surabaya addressed a rally of 600 at the capital's Hotel Indonesia roundabout before marching to the Supreme Court.

Doctors need to be saved, so that they can save people, said a leaflet distributed at the protest.

It argued that criminalising doctors would only hurt patients' welfare as doctors would be under psychological pressure and avoid taking risks that may be necessary to save a patient.

MP Ribka Tjiptaning, who chairs the parliamentary committee on health matters, said the doctors had failed to put the interests of patients first by taking to these solidarity rallies.

But internal medicine specialist Irsyal Rusad told The Straits Times that the move was not a strike, would not take the whole day and urgent medical treatments were still being carried out.

"We are not leaving behind our main duty of serving patients. Only some of us are here," he said.

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