PORT OF SPAIN –– The Attorney General is not backing any cover-up in the controversial cocaine surgery issue.
Stressing that doctor/patient confidentiality cannot be used as a “shield for criminal wrongdoing”, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday called on Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams to probe deeper into the matter.
Ramlogan’s view is in consonance with the British-based Medical Protection Society.
“This matter sets a most dangerous precedent for our country because it is a known medium and method of transporting drugs for people to ingest it, whether it is to put the drugs in a condom, dip it in honey and swallow it, or whether you use it as a suppository,” Ramlogan stated.
Expressing views which were clearly at variance with his colleague Minister of Health Fuad Khan, the attorney general rejected the position that professionals might be fearful of reprisal.
Khan, citing the murder of Dana Seetahal, said [doctors] had to be very careful because up to this day the police were still looking for Seetahal’s killers.
Ramlogan, however, said to accept this as a valid and justifiable excuse for the inaction of the medical personnel, would result in the collapse of law and order and the disintegration of this society.
He added that it would mean that every victim of crime — whether it is a rape or kidnap victim — would not go to the police for fear of reprisal.
“I don’t accept that that is ample justification for what transpired in this matter,” he said.
“I find it an entirely unsatisfactory and unacceptable state of affairs that such an event could have occurred,” he said, when asked about the statements by Williams that Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Kathy Ann Waterman-Latchoo had advised there was no evidence at this point to charge either surgeon or patient.
Speaking at the post-cabinet news conference, the attorney general maintained the comissioner should continue the investigations into this matter so as “not to allow Trinidad and Tobago to become the laughing stock of the world”.
He said the doctor involved in the surgery had a legal obligation to report the matter to the police but did nothing. He said under the law doctors were obliged to report criminal offences.
This was a well written and understood exception to doctor/patient confidentiality rule, he said.
“Whether it is an underaged child that is sexually active and therefore someone is guilty of statutory rape; whether it is a case where a child is a victim of sexual or physical abuse; or whether it is cocaine being removed from someone’s stomach, in such a situation, common sense dictates, far less one’s professional responsibility and the law, that you [the doctor] ought properly to inform the police, retain possession of the foreign particles or bags of whatever is extracted, so that due process and law, can take its course,” Ramlogan said.
The attorney general stated further that after the pellets were removed from the patient’s stomach “and there was clear and reasonable ground to suspect that this was illegal drugs, digested with the intention that it would be expelled and sold as part of drug trafficking, surely the doctor and nursing home [St Augustine Private Hospital] should have been red-flagging this matter and be on high alert to notify the police so that the patient could be immediately arrested and not allowed to simply walk out of the nursing home”.
“But,” Ramlogan pointed out, “there was a complete abdication of responsibility and professional duty in accordance with the law and I am gravely concerned and extremely disturbed by the fact that this could occur and we are now being told no one can be held accountable and responsible, far less culpable as a matter of law”.
The attorney general said one would also have expected the Medical Board to treat with this matter with the urgency it required and to take steps to ascertain whether there was professional misconduct.
“It would be naive in the extreme to believe that the doctor and other medical staff were not alerted to the criminal nature of both the patient and the operation they had embarked upon,” he said.
Ramlogan said while he respected the advice given by the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Office, that advice had to be “contextualized”, in that it was given on the basis of the evidence presented to the DPP department.
Ramlogan asked what the nursing home did when the cocaine pellets were removed; what was the nature of the complaint from the patient; was full and frank disclosure made by the patient to the doctor as to the true and genuine purpose for which he was seeking medical attention.
“If it is that the full and frank disclosure of the patient was such that it would have alerted the doctor to the nature and purpose of the operation which was to remove packaged cocaine from a man’s stomach, then the doctor may have been a co-conspirator,” he said.