Efforts of committed medical practitioners to promote ethics in the profession
In the early 1990s, a group of doctors, dismayed at the regulatory sloth of the Indian Medical Council, which had led to a rampant increase in unethical medical practices, decided it was time for some action. Eight doctors, known for their ethical practices and concern for the public health system, established the Forum for Medical Ethics (FME) in 1992.
They contested the Maharashtra Medical Council elections and, as expected, lost because of massive rigging of the elections by those supported by money-power and politics. But, as Dr Sunil Pandya, a founder of FME, says: “We were able to generate a public debate on the need for ethics in the elections to medical councils and their role and responsibility through the media”. The FME documented the electoral malpractices in detail and filed a PIL (public interest litigation) in the Bombay High Court. It won the case; the elections were pronounced invalid due to rigging.
The court battle also led to greater bonding and professional camaraderie, which eventually resulted in the formal registration of the Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES) with the charity commissioner (Mumbai) as a voluntary, non-profit organisation.
FMES started out by holding monthly meetings to discuss issues in medical ethics and publishing a quarterly newsletter called Medical Ethics. The Society had no funds and worked only with volunteers, who also happened to be reputed medical practitioners passionate about upholding the Hippocratic Oath.
Medical Ethics began as an eight-page quarterly newsletter in August 1993, but soon doubled and quadrupled the pages as it gained wider support from the profession and the public. In January 1996, it was renamed Issues in Medical Ethics and after 2004 is known as the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. It is now an internationally refereed journal and is also available online. Every submission to the Journal is scrutinised by the editorial staff and then by referees within India or abroad. The Journal’s editorial board comprises well-known international experts from countries as varied in health services as the US, UK, South Africa, China and Belgium, etc. It is being indexed by PubMed.
Initially, the Society’s work, mainly the publication of the Journal, was done through volunteering and funds raised from individual donors. Dr Sanjay Nagral, the current publisher of the Journal, says: “Someone donated the paper and someone paid for the printing. All of us worked for free. Even the ‘offices’ of Journal were located in the home of one of the volunteers!” But once the activities expanded, Dr Amar Jesani, another founder member of the Society, suggested holding a biennial ‘National Bioethics Conference’, the surpluses of which were ploughed into funding the Journal. The conferences are held at a teaching institution to keep overheads low.
As with all activities that espouse professional ethics, raising funds for FME’s activities, especially the Journal, is a challenge. “Since we do not accept advertisements from pharma companies as a matter of principle, we have to depend on philanthropists to support the cause. Also, now that we have put the Journal online and traffic on the website is huge, maintaining the website requires professional staff as well as funds,” says Dr Nagral.
The Journal is widely read—not just by doctors but by activists, development professionals and policy-makers. Not surprisingly, that segment of the readership is much larger than that of medical professionals!
Donations to FMES are eligible for tax benefits under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act. You can donate online; the details are given on the Forum’s website.
Forum for Medical Ethics Society
0-18, Bhavna, Veer Savarkar Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai - 400 025 INDIA