Thursday, July 10, 2008

A well-intentioned amputation?

Dr. Dandyson Allison has gone into hiding, not long after him having amputated the arms of a 13-year old girl. When it is put that starkly, Dr. Allison sounds downright evil. But this is not a fair description of the case. After adding some more relevant details, Dr. Allison comes out looking better. But this does not make his life any easier.

Back in April, in Kaju (Nigeria), Dr. Allison amputated the arms of Saratu Yusuf after she had been hit by a truck, and -- according to Dr. Allison and some witnesses -- her arms were already effectively severed. Had he not intervened rapidly, she might have faced serious medical complications. But the amputation was performed without permission of her parents, and Saratu seems to dispute the claim that her arms could not be viably reconnected. She claims the doctor asked for money up front for medical aid, and that he amputated her arms against her explicit wishes. The Yusuf family is seeking compensation for the fact that Saratu will not be able to work, in the order of almost half a million US dollars -- in a country where the average income is roughly $300 per year.

Dr. Allison's problems do not end there. Refusing to pay the compensation landed him in jail for a week. His clinic has been closed, and his medical instruments seized. Besides being discussed in the press, he is accused by community members of amputing the arms for purposes of 'black magic', the real or imagined stealing of body parts being a familiar theme in sub-Saharan Africa. He has received death threats; a mob threatened to burn down his clinic. The sad picture of Saratu, all-too-reminiscent of child victims of war crimes, is bound to affect public opinion of Dr. Allison.

Dr. Allison claims that his actions were motivated purely by his Hippocratic Oath. If this is so, this is a case of 'no good deed goes unpunished.' The usual story in sub-Saharan Africa is that the notion of patient rights need to be strengthened to counteract potential abuses of medical practitioners (and researchers). And this is largely true. But the case of Dr. Allison suggests that doctors also need some level of protection from families and communities hellbent on retribution.


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