$1,650 to lose an arm in malpractice
Three years ago, in northern Samsun province’s Çarşamba district, five-year-old Zehra broke her arm while playing with her friends. Her mother took her to a private hospital and her arm was put into a cast.
When her pain became unbearable, she was taken to the hospital the next day. The plaster was broken. Because her wound was infected, she was taken into surgery. Her arm was opened from wrist to elbow. Later, the family was told: “The necessary operation was done and we have decided to forward her case to the medical faculty.”
The doctor had not started the antibiotics treatment necessary against any possibility of infection and the arm had developed gangrene. They were aware of the situation but just in case they could escape the responsibility, they were thinking, “Maybe we could land it upon the university hospital.”
At the Ondokuz Mayıs University Medical Faculty, a sharp odor emitted when they opened Zehra’s arm bandages; her arm had started rotting. When father Adem Toprak arrived at the hospital, they told him that his five-year-old daughter’s arm would be amputated. “My world fell apart at that moment,” he said.
Zehra went through psychological shock; her hair fell out in clumps. Her father said he had to trick her - he did not know how to pay for this but he said they would mend her arm and put it back. She is still asking, “Is my arm not repaired yet?”
Her father has had a prosthetic arm made for her, but Zehra feels it is heavy and does not wear it.
At school, her teacher takes her to the toilet as she cannot manage herself with one arm.
Whenever there is an “arm” mentioned in a conversation she starts crying. When somebody asks, “What happened to you?” she sulks and answers: “I fell down and the doctor did this to me.” Then she becomes quiet.
In the court case over the incident, the doctor was found guilty and he was sentenced to 250 days in jail, which was converted to a fine of 5,000 Turkish Liras (about $1,650). In other words, the cost of depriving a child of one of her arms is 5,000 liras.
Medical law expert and lawyer Sunay Akyıldız said in the majority of similar cases the doctors are not found guilty, that the system protects the doctors and the most frequent violation of human rights occurs in medical malpractice in Turkey.
She said, “The problem is the Forensic Medicine Institute. They are not scientific; they lack a thorough explanation of the case but the courts decide according to their reports. The institute generally declares that the doctor has no fault, it protects the doctor. Even in state reports this problem is determined but there is never a reform in the Forensic Medicine Institute.”
Akyıldız also said that in the eyes of the judges, the doctors never look guilty. “Their sentences are generally postponed. If there is an obvious mistake, then they are only fined,” she said.
Worse, since the expert does not find any fault in the doctor, the patient cannot get the relevant compensation.
The Toprak family’s lawyer, Halit Doğan, said it was a big deal and very difficult for a doctor to be sentenced. “The doctor protects the doctor. They do everything to not give a report saying the doctor is faulty here. In Zehra’s case they even went to other experts to get a special report saying the doctor has no fault. They were almost going to blame the child.”
In her case, the judge gave the maximum sentence but there was a reduction for “good conduct.” The 250 days in jail was converted to a fine of the minimum limit of 20 liras per day, whereas it could have been the maximum limit of 100 liras per day.
Yes, a doctor would never hurt a patient intentionally. But while everybody is paying the price for their mistakes, is this protective ring around the doctors fair?
The father of Zehra, who lost an arm because of the lack of care of a doctor, said, “The fine given to that man has knocked me out.” Isn’t he right?