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Institute supports abolition of criminal penalties for doctors

2012/07/03 22:15:48

Taipei, July 3 (CNA) Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institute, along with the local medical community, called Tuesday for the revision of a law that treats medical malpractice as a criminal act, amid an increasing shortage of doctors.

In a presentation on improvements of the national health insurance system at a meeting of Academia Sinica academicians, Chen Ding-shinn said he supports the decriminalization of medical negligence.

Singling out obstetricians and gynecologists as an example, he said they are particularly vulnerable to lawsuits and medical disputes, which dampens medical students' willingness to enter that branch of the profession, said Chen, who is also a distinguished chair professor at National Taiwan University Medical College.

Noting that some 43 percent of Taiwan's 211 townships and districts, many of them in rural areas, do not have any ob/gyn doctors, he warned that women might one day be forced to go overseas to have their babies.

Medical lawsuits against doctors in five specialties -- internal medicine, external medicine, ER, ob/gyn and pediatrics -- accounted for 85 percent of all medical disputes between 1987 and 2011, with neurosurgeons listed as the most vulnerable, followed by ob/gyn practitioners, according to Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta.

In an advisory paper on medical and health policies proposed by the institute, the experts suggested regulating medical malpractice under the Medical Care Act instead of the Criminal Law, and pushed for bills that support "appropriate punishment" in cases of medical negligence.

They also urged the administration to set up a system of medical compensation as soon as possible to compensate patients or their families for death or injury caused by medical treatment.

The Ministry of Justice is scheduled to hold a public hearing to discuss the criminal responsibility of medical practices July 6.

Over the past six years, lawsuits against doctors for causing death through medical negligence have numbered about 100 per year, the ministry said. One in 10 of these cases have ended up with indictments against the doctors involved over the last three years.

None of the defendants were sentenced to more than a year in prison and most received less than six months, the statistics show.

(By Chen Ching-fang and Kendra Lin)