Hospitals and the death business

July 18, 2016 | 12:21 am PT
Hospital staff are making money on people's misery and pain.

Years ago, the hospital I worked for had a regulation that an autopsy had to be performed on every patient that died before they were handed over to the families.

The autopsies had great benefits. It helped to examine doctors' diagnosis and treatment. I used to wait for the autopsy results to check my diagnosis, the treatment and more importantly, to find out the cause of death.

However, many cases needed to be observed by the police. Usually, the police would arrive after lunch time, but to my amazement, whenever I stepped out for 10 minutes, the autopsy was already complete and the police had left. I never had a chance to find out why my patients had passed away.

One day, the family of a patient invited me to a luxury restaurant near the hospital for lunch. At that time, hardly any doctors could afford a meal at a high-end eatery. Again, to my amazement, I saw many colleagues from the pathology deparment having lunch there. Doctors, technicians and even drivers who transported the dead bodies were all having lunch in the restaurant. I had always assumed their salaries were low because they only met families of dead patients so they would not receive any gratuity from them.

So how could they afford to eat at the restaurant? The question haunted me for a long time, but finally, I got the answer from a senior doctor.

They were "vultures" who gorged themselves on the money earned by not performing autopsies. The truth was the police never observed any autopsies at the hospital. That was why they never let me see the autopsy reports. It was the families who were paying for their deceased loved ones not to go through any more.

Rumor also had it that there was an unwritten rule that families of the dead had to pay a ridiculously large sum of money to buy a coffin from the hospital. Staff would take advantage of the hospital's hygiene regulations to explain the exorbitant fee.

Doctors, in response to the rule, would advise families of terminally ill patients to take them home before they passed away. I had done that too, believing it would stop the patients' families from falling prey to the "vultures". When these problems were finally solved thanks to the efforts of many generations of the hospital's directors, it was a strained revolution.

At the hospital's battlefield, where patients and their families fight against death, making money from human pain had been developed in various forms.

Recently, the public was shocked by the tragedy of a nine-month child who did not had the chance to go home for the last time before leaving this world because of hospital guards.

It happened in front of the Hanoi-based National Hospital of Pediatrics. An ambulance (hired by the family from the child's town) had been driven to Hanoi to take the dying child home to the central province of Nghe An. The guards refused to let the ambulance leave, and the child died there two hours later while his family shouted and cried and the guards verbally abused them.

The reality is this is not uncommon in hospitals. The family of a seriously sick patient of mine wanted to hire a car to take the patient home. They were very worried and asked me for help. I did not know why I needed to intervene, as I thought it would be a simple task. But long after, I found out that in some hospitals, the terminally ill and deceased can only be transported home by cars managed by the hospitals. The families must sign a contract with the hospitals for the service.

A hospital is a place where families naturally feel weak and are more likely to be "willing" to be taken advantage of. This "bonus" has also blinded many hospital staff. Competition between different hospital forces to earn money from the pain of patients and their families has become fierce and the business will mushroom without strict management.

I believe that strict, clear and detailed regulations, including punishments, can stop the disgraceful business.

Back to the case of the nine-month child. The hospital director made a public apology to the family, which is to be applauded, but after that, how will they avoid another tragedy in the future?

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