Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who is a ‘Dr’, asks court

Can a hair therapist call himself a doctor or a beautician write “Dr” before her name?
The word “Doctor” has come under the legal scanner, with a high court division bench asking the state medical council to submit an affidavit on relevant rules empowering individuals to put “Dr” before their names.

The bench headed by Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar issued the directive following a public interest litigation by city resident Sanjib Das, who is pleading for an order preventing individuals specialising in “alternative medicines” from writing “Dr” before their names.

“Body-weight reducers, hair therapists and even some beauticians using herbal products are writing ‘Doctor’ before their names. They do not have any degree from recognised medical institutions,” the petition states, calling for a ban on such disciplines.

Das has accused the “police and administration” of turning a blind eye to “fake doctors”, thereby helping them “cheat the public”.

Dilip Kumar Ghosh, the registrar of the state medical council, told Metro that only those who have at least an MBBS degree — or an equivalent one in ayurved, unani or homoeopathy — and are enrolled with an authority established by an act of Parliament can call themselves “doctor” and use the “Dr” prefix.

“Practitioners of ayurved, unani and homoeopathy have to state their degrees to ensure patients are not confused,” said Ghosh.

As for “alternative medicines” the petitioner refers to, the registrar said: “They are not recognised as branches of medicine. Anyone specialising in them cannot write ‘Dr’ before his/her name.”

The owners of many city-based clinics have opposed the petitioner’s contention and been made respondents.

Appearing for S.K. Agarwal who runs a hair transplant clinic, lawyer Arun Maity submitted that there was no clause in the Indian Medical Council Act clarifying who were allowed to call themselves “doctor”.

“In the UK, only physicians with an MD degree can write ‘Dr’ before their names. But in India there is no such rule.”

The submission prompted the bench to ask counsel for the state medical council, Saibalendu Bhowmik, to state through an affidavit his client’s views on the issue.

The council’s lawyer, however, is clear that people with degrees in “alternative medicines” cannot treat people. “The state should impose a ban on institutes offering degrees in such disciplines. Those who are cheating people by practising alternative medicine should be arrested immediately.”

Opposing Bhowmik’s submission, Maity said: “In 1999, Justice B.P. Bannerjee of the high court had observed that there should be no bar on individuals with degrees in alternative medicines treating people. The state is yet to appeal against the observation. So, under what law will the government impose the ban?”