Is it ethical for doctors to go on strike?

As a child, when your teachers went on strike and your school had to close for the day, you were undoubtedly rubbing your hands together with glee in anticipation of all you could do with an unplanned weekday off. As an adult, tube strikes cause endless grumbling and groaning as commuters across the capital and outskirts struggle in vain to reach their offices, tube maps glued to their hands in desperation, bemoaning every train driver who ever lived.

strike image

But what about medical professionals? Although teachers and tube drivers have various people who rely on them during the course of the day, with doctors the intensity of this is ramped to the extreme with potential life-threatening situations if a doctor isn’t on hand. So what would doctors do, if they felt passionately enough about a topic to want to strike? Is it right that they don’t feel they can take this option when other public sector workers can, or is it just ‘one of those things’?

Michael Levis comments on social site Quora that “there is something of a ‘calling’ and duty in medicine, and I would not turn anyone away…to deny a patient treatment for ANY reason is wholly unethical.” Shashank Srivastava agrees, pessimistically saying “You go out for a protest and meanwhile, your patient dies. That patient was the only earning member of the family and his death leaves behind his entire family with an uncertain future. Now you decide what was better?”

Fighting for rights

Indian doctor Sirisha Asmath takes the opposing viewpoint however, stating that she in fact has been involved in strike action in the past. She claims that despite protest action, her department ensured they had enough staff to fully operate successfully, emphasising that patients did not suffer in the slightest because of industrial action. “Yes, the emergency was still functioning as usual, and all of us were still working, and saving lives etc, there were a few lucky ones who were not on duty on that day, and even they took ward rounds and put orders for the patients in the wards, gave instructions to the nurses and stayed available on the phone throughout,” she explains.

Speaking out about frustrated patients attacking working doctors, Dr Asmath continues “Why did we strike? For safety, for protection and security. As resident doctors, the conditions we work in is appalling – for every doctor, there are 10-15 patients (with around 50 relatives) all vying for attention and treatment at any given point of time. I can say for sure that even if we are on strike, we make sure that essential services to patients are not affected, but as human beings, don’t you think that we deserve a consideration for security too?”

What do you think? Do you think doctors should have the capacity to strike or not?