Angry Doctor

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cow Dung 2

angry doc doesn't usually read The New Paper, but once in a while a copy gets left in the tea room, and angry doc finds an article that interests him (emphasis mine):

Did geomancer's BAD ADVICE kill our daughter?
By Maureen Koh

DESPERATE to save their dying daughter, two parents turned to a fengshui master for help.

They hoped that by changing the 'luck' of the family, their young child might miraculously recover from her illness.

Following the geomancer's advice, they sold their four-room Woodlands flat in 2005 and spent nearly $10,000 over six months to rent flats in places such as Jurong and Bukit Batok, hoping to change their daughter's luck.

They also changed the Chinese characters of all their names.

In all, they paid $4,000 to the geomancer.

But last year, the girl died just four days short of her 6th birthday.

Now, her parents want to sue the geomancer, but have been told that a lawsuit could be futile.

There has been no precedent that would hold someone liable for practising an art or belief that cannot be proven scientifically.

The couple have asked that they not be named fully. They also declined to identify the girl's illness.

Their lawyer told The New Paper on Sunday: 'As fengshui practice hinges very much on belief, it would take a lot to prove any hint of a malpractice.

'It is not like there is a book of authority on the subject that one could refer to for verification.'

It seems the Lims are not the only ones who want to haul their fengshui master to court.

A Singapore businesswoman also wants to sue the same geomancer, claiming she went bankrupt because of his advice.


The Lims' troubles began in 2003 when their daughter, then a year old, was diagnosed with a serious ailment.

She was in and out of hospitals, but her condition didn't improve, said Mr Lim, 36, a sales executive.

His wife, 33, also a sales executive, added: 'My girl was very brave. Whether it was taking medicine or frequent trips to the operating theatre, she never kicked up a fuss.'

When doctors told them in 2005 recovery was unlikely, they prayed for a miracle.

A relative suggested they see a fengshui master.

Mr Lim recalled: 'The geomancer said the fengshui elements of our flat were detrimental to our daughter's health.'

Fengshui is a practice that prescribes living in harmony with the environment.

Anxious to save their child, the Lims said it did not take much to convince them.

'At that moment, we jumped at anything to save our daughter,' Mrs Lim said.

They asked their MP, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, to help them write to the Housing Board to sell their flat as they did not fulfil the minimum five-year occupation period.

They have since sold the flat.

But while they waited for approval, the family rented units in different places.

After moving out, the little girl's condition seemed to improve. The Lims were relieved.

Mr Lim said: 'We thought the fengshui master was right. We carried out renovation according to his advice, and even paid for some auspicious items that he said were necessary for our home.'

But their relief was shortlived.

Their daughter's health worsened when they moved into their new 'perfect home' in Marine Parade in 2005, as advised by the geomancer.

'The morning after we moved in, she suffered a relapse and had to be rushed to the hospital,' Mrs Lim recalled.

Five months later, the girl slipped into a coma and was certified brain-dead.

Fighting back tears, Mrs Lim said: 'The doctor told us that we had to make the decision to pull the plug, but my husband and I refused.

'In the end, we didn't have to do it. By night, she was gone.'

Grief turned to fury when the couple approached three other fengshui practitioners with the floor plan of their new home.

Mr Lim said: 'All three told us the same thing - that the room which was picked for our child had too much 'sha qi' (harmful energy).'

While they have gradually come to terms with their daughter's death, the Lims hope that by sharing their story, others would not be so gullible.

angry doc is pretty sure that the geomancer did not kill the girl - her unnamed illness did.

But this story illustrates an important issue in seeking medical advice: the issue of accountability.

If angry doc gives out the wrong advice and his patient suffers harm as a result of it, angry doc can be brought to court for it. It is for this reason that angry doc is required to have malpractice insurance. If he needs to go to court, his insurers will study the case and decide if angry doc's actions should be defended, and if so, how.

More importantly for the patient, if angry doc's actions cannot be defended, the patient can be compensated with a reasonable sum, which in a serious case can be more than what angry doc can afford without becoming bankrupt, in which case the patient will not receive very much at all.

This system works because doctors can be made accountable, and we can be made accountable because most of the time, there is a known cause-and-effect relationship in what we do and what happens to the patient. A court can look at the facts and decide if what a doctor has done is reasonable, or if what he has done had fallen short of the standard and resulted in harm to a patient.

angry doc used to be terrified by the idea that he could be sued for malpractice. Now he is proud of it.

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  • Unfortunately, how much do doctors charge for consultation (eg GPs) and how much do geomancers charge for a consult with them?

    The former is accountable and cheaper and the latter is not accountable but yet more expensive.

    Mind baffling.

    By Blogger Dr Oz bloke, At June 13, 2007 9:14 pm  

  • The TCM guys and the geomancers have the ability to explain things in a seemingly logical manner which is easy to understand. Their craft is all about trust.

    The western people have it tough because most patients have not gone to medical school. Makes it hard for patients to understand. Its hard for them to believe in what they cannot comprehend. Furthermore, they are easily mislead by what they see on the internet.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At June 14, 2007 9:36 am  

  • dear medical student,

    regarding TCM...the TCM guys DO NOT explain TCM to their patients at all. It's not an explanation, it's more just popular catchy phrases that "sound" right.

    Trust me. I'm studying TCM now. It's a very complexed philosophy. If I tried to explain it FOR REAL to you, you won't understand it!

    But what the TCM guys commonly do is just say it is this organ that is cold or hot period. Or wind pathogen invading the body.

    The point I think is that people choose to hear what they WANT and LIKE to hear. If you had an idea that your back pain was because you had a fan blowing on your back the whole of yesterday, you would "like" and "agree" with the TCM physician who would say yes it is due to "wind" rather than a TCM physician who might rightly diagnose that it is due to a weakness of kidney yang causing damp accumulation and blood stasis. Also, by nature TCM is very dicey, and it's how you argue (like literature) why you think it is because of this and that syndrome.....

    How much of our work is sales and public relations, EQ rather than hard factual science?

    Patients are customers in many ways, whether we like it or not.

    By Blogger Dr Oz bloke, At June 14, 2007 10:27 am  

  • Don't think of it as cow dung; think of it as the candy everybody wants.

    By Blogger angry doc, At June 14, 2007 7:04 pm  

  • i have often blogged about our sangomas and sometimes received criticism from comentators because i suppose for my scepticism. but their total lack of accountability is exactly the point. the belief clause means they are never responsible. rather the patient is not healed due to their lack of faith and it is therefore their fault and not the healer's. yes, i am also proud i can be sued.

    By Blogger Bongi, At June 16, 2007 4:08 am  

  • Sangomas. Thanks for teaching me a new word today. :)

    It seems that the less evidence a system has to offer, the more it considers faith a virtue.

    By Blogger angry doc, At June 16, 2007 1:39 pm  

  • It's good that TCM is regulated...but I guess evidence-based-medicine is a foreign concept.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At June 19, 2007 2:28 pm  

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