Doctor-government conflict continues as vaccinations begin
Published : Feb 25, 2021 - 15:08
Updated : Feb 25, 2021 - 15:11
View of Korean Medical Association office in Yongsan-gu, central Seoul. (Yonhap)
Doctors appear to be losing ground in their conflict with the government after facing negative public sentiment toward their call for collective action.

The Korean Medical Association said Wednesday that it agrees with the intention of the bill on revoking licenses for doctors convicted of serious crimes, but argued that adjustments need to be made within the legislative proposal to prevent over-regulation.

“We completely agree even within ourselves that doctors who committed severe crimes must be strictly regulated,” the KMA said in a statement.

“The association surely understands the purpose of the bill and demands from the public. But the bill is too broad in terms of application as medical licenses can face restrictions even from suspended prison sentence for all crimes. We ask for careful review from the National Assembly.”

The remark is a shift from stern response that the doctors’ representative group shown days earlier when the bill was waiting for committee-level approval at the National Assembly.

“We can never accept the revision that would revoke the medical licenses of doctors sentenced to prison terms, suspended or not, for all crimes including traffic accidents,” the KMA said in a statement Saturday.

The proposed revision to the Medical Act would see any doctor who is sentenced to prison time stripped of his or her medical license for five years after their release. Doctors given suspended prison sentences would lose their licenses for two years.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Kang Byung-won of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, was submitted in light of the increasing number of doctors being accused of serious crimes.

Under the current statute, doctors found guilty of sex crimes are already barred from running or working at medical institutions for 10 years. Those found guilty of committing sex crimes while treating patients have their licenses suspended indefinitely until further review.

While doctors oppose the plan for new regulations, they do not appear to have strong support from the general public.

According to a Realmeter survey on 500 people aged 18 or older released Tuesday, 68.5 percent of respondents said they support the bill on revising the Medical Act while 26 percent objected to the bill.

Doctors have also faced criticism for potentially jeopardizing public health and South Korea’s nationwide vaccination program by threatening collective action.

The KMA, the largest professional association for physicians representing some 130,000 doctors in Korea, warned to wage a full-scale strike, which would cause delays and problems with COVID-19 response and vaccination.

KMA’s conflict with the government yet could change on the outcome of the association’s election for a new leader that started Thursday. The election is planned to last a full month until March 26.

All six candidates are critical of the current government and have insisted that its current leader Choi Dae-zip has used poor strategy in negotiating with the government. Choi is not running for reelection.

Amid the prospect of doctors boycotting the vaccination plan, some suggested other occupations like nurses and oriental remedy practitioners take charge of administering vaccines to people.

“I ask for a bill that would allow nurses and those with certain qualifications to administer vaccines and take samples when it is difficult to manage the medical system in place due to the illegal strike,” Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Traditional medical practitioners also announced they are willing to participate in the vaccination plan if doctors continue to stay in conflict with the government. They asked lawmakers to submit a legislative revision to the Medical Act to give them the right to administer the vaccine.

By Ko Jun-tae (