Multiple events show need to better protect medical professionals against murderers

Wang Yong
Acting on your conscience or not makes a difference – sometimes a difference between life and death. 
Wang Yong

On the morning of December 24, a student was late for her elementary school in a town in Yunnan Province, southwest China. Her teacher sensed something unusual and took an action that eventually saved the girl and most of her family members from perishing in a home incident of gas poisoning, Xinhua reported on Sunday.

Li Jinjin, the teacher, could have gone ahead with her class while waiting for the girl to show up a little later. But the girl had never been late before. This made Li a bit uneasy. She did not wait. She contacted her colleague, Yu Bo, to see if the girl’s younger brother, studying at the same school, was also late. The answer was yes.

Yu called the kids’ father. No one answered. Yu alerted the schoolmaster of a possible mishap. The latter asked Yu to immediately drive to the girl’s home about one kilometer away from the school. When he arrived, Yu caught a strong smell of gas leaking from the closed door and windows. He broke into the house and found the family of six were lying unconscious on beds beside a small coal stove.

Yu called for help and some neighbors joined him to move the victims outdoors. The 6-year-old boy who was late for class died, but the girl, her two sisters and their parents were saved thanks to emergency rescue at a local hospital.

Also on the morning of December 24, an emotional son of a 95-year-old woman patient killed a defenseless doctor at a big hospital in Beijing. The murder enraged the nation.

Certainly the son could question the hospital about the effectiveness of treatment of her mother, or even about what he suspected to be lack of due diligence on the part of the hospital. He could have taken the hospital’s management to task. No excuses whatsoever could justify his murdering of an innocent doctor.

The thing is, the hospital also had no excuse to leave its doctors unguarded against possible perpetrators. In this case, the hospital knew that the son had threatened many times to kill doctors should his 95-year-old mother fail to recover from illness. If the heads of the hospital were as careful and attentive as the two teachers in Yunnan, the doctor brutally knifed to death should not have been left alone in the first place to face an apparent perpetrator.

Xinmin Weekly went to the hospital in Beijing and reported on Sunday that another patient had threatened to kill doctors on Saturday, shortly after the December 24 tragedy. “The hospital should understand that it’s a must to maintain order. Appeasing perpetrators will only end up in yet another, worse tragedy,” the weekly commented.

Some might say it’s not a hospital’s job to police perpetrators. But is there really nothing hospitals can do to protect their doctors? If the two teachers in Yunnan just dialed a police hotline and did not act on their own conscience, the girl and her family would probably have all perished — after all, the teachers were in a better position than even local police to act quickly.

By the same token, the hospital in question could have armed the murdered doctor with at least one security guard, having been well aware of the perpetrator’s threats.

Acting on your conscience or not makes a difference — sometimes a difference between life and death. It’s unrealistic to ask police to do all the jobs for you.

No doubt a new national law passed on Saturday on promoting people’s health will prompt the whole society to safeguard doctors’ interests. Still, it won’t justify a hospital for failing to do what it could to contribute to a better order on its turf.

In reporting the Yunnan story, Xinhua quoted the motto of Li Jinjin: Action decides how we survive.

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