Doctors’ Concern About Social Justice & Democracy
Dr Mary Cardosa President, MMA 2011-12.
The events of the past few weeks should have set us all thinking about what it means to be not just doctors in Malaysia but also as citizens. In particular, the arrest of Jeyakumar Michael Devaraj under the Emergency
Ordinance, with the charge of “waging war against the King”, has been particularly disturbing to many of us personally. Kumar, a Life member of the MMA, has participated in many of our AGMs and is well known for bringing up resolutions urging the Association to look into working for the health of poor communities (e.g. estate workers) and questioning policies that favour the rich and disadvantage the poor (e.g. privatisation of health services). Since his arrest, many doctors have spoken/written about the Kumar they know personally, telling stories of his peaceful, simple and humble nature, and the philosophy that he has always followed — service to the people, especially the less privileged of society. He has made many personal sacrifices, living a very simple life and driving that beat up blue Volkswagen beetle for many years.
I have known Kumar since the 1970s in Penang, and I too have many stories about the great work he has done over the years, as a student and as a doctor. Organising free tuition classes for children from squatter communities, documenting carefully the occupational hazards and high accident rate (many fatal) of the logging industry in Sarawak, working to stop the demolishing of the houses of poor city council workers are just a few examples that I have personally witnessed.
How could such a person be a threat to the King?
He has done more good and made more sacrifices than a hundred of us put together. I join the many people who have written letters and petitions calling for the release of Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj and the other five members of PSM who have been detained under the Emergency Ordinance on 2 July 2011.
Doctors’ responsibility to society
Although the MMA is here to listen to you and to try to address some of your issues, as the largest doctors’
organisation in the country, we also have a responsibility to address issues that affect health. As
doctors, we are well respected, we have status in society and we are often in a position of influence; as such, we have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to others, especially those who are less fortunate than us.
JK Rowling, in her speech to the graduating class of Harvard University in 2008, said“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
As doctors, therefore, we need to think about how we can use that privilege to make this a better world for all. At the very least, we need to address issues that will affect the health of our people. At a broader level, we should also be concerned about larger issues of social justice and democracy. So while the MMA should, and will, always address issues where doctors’ welfare and the practice of medicine is affected, we must also take a position on issues like the Lynas project, torture of prisoners and detainees and other current socio-political issues. As responsible physicians, we cannot just hide under the “tempurung” of our white coats and stethoscopes.