“So there I was minding my own business, ogling a pretty brunette nurse over by Bed Number 3, when she walked into my life. And nothing would ever be the same again.”
I bet the erstwhile emergency room physician from Agha Khan Hospital would be having constant thoughts about that night. If he had only known how his week would end up. So here’s how it all started.
According to how it has been reported, it was a dark October night that saw Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s sister suffer a sudden ailment. Having been rushed to the hospital, she was given swift treatment at the Emergency Room and, later, discharged. Nothing wrong with that up till now. “Sab kuch theek chal raha tha keh achanak…” the sister received a Facebook notification – a friend’s request… from the same doctor she was just treated by (plus some assorted comments on her photographs).
The following morning, Sharmeen had her, now infamous, twitter meltdown calling out harassment.
Now, if you ask me, the entire episode does raise quite a few red flags, immediately. Why would he want to add her? What would a “doctor” even want to add a “patient”? Where did he get the information to successfully find her on Facebook, in the first place? Was there any above board exchange of information or did he search through her patient file during or after her checkup? Is it against protocol to access patient records for such personal use? Why are the Chinoys making “such a big deal” out of “a simple friendship request”? And, perhaps most importantly, is it even harassment or isn’t it?
From what I’ve seen in terms of opinions on the internet, the dynamics of a “good” and professional doctor-patient relationship seem to be beyond our collective understanding. So let us transpose this interaction to another, but similar, situation. Let’s say, you don’t go to the hospital – let’s say, you go to the district court. Let’s say you want a legal application drafted and you randomly select one of the dozens of lawyers sitting out in the courtyard, with their typewriters, to do it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. What follows is usually something like this:
1) You tell them you’re temporarily hiring their services,
2) You actually do openly share your personal information necessary for the application draft with them (unlike at the hospital where you don’t need to),
3) You get your letter drafted,
4) You pay them, and
5) You go on your merry way.
End of story, right?
So, now imagine you’re sitting at home having your cup of tea when *DING* you get a notification from Facebook and it’s the same lawyer and he’s asking to be on your friend’s list. What are you supposed to think?
Well, if it was me, I’d be like “O bhai, letter likhwaya tha, rishta to nahi kiya. Free kiyon ho raha hai?” and, I think, general reactions would normally be a variation of that thought (unless, of course, you’re open to expanding your friend’s list – which is also fine).
The point being is:
b) Uninvited, and
It is discomforting because if I hire someone’s professional services it goes without question that I want them to be just that – a PROFESSIONAL (as opposed to, I don’t know, not?).
I don’t want them using the information I may even have shared with them, directly, for reasons other than the limited tenure of their work. And if someone does that I have a LEGITIMATE REASON for concern that the confidential information I shared may not be in “good” hands.
It is uninvited (this is rather obvious, though) because if I wanted to interact with the lawyer socially, I would have been rather forward about stating as much – but if I didn’t then there is no solicitation of interest beyond the cycle of services.
And it is problematic because now I am thinking to myself, “If I was to decline it then he may take offense. He knows quite a few particulars of my confidential information since I shared as much during the course of my application draft. What do I do now?”
To sum the condition up: I would feel unsafe.
And I think that’s the point. The point is that the doctor made Sharmeen’s sister feel unsafe. And, c’mon, that’s not acceptable, at all. It isn’t a matter of “Friend request hi thi na”. It is a matter of inappropriate use of private information. So that’s just the first thing.
The second point is, how did he come across the information? Was it, magically, revealed unto him? Did Sharmeen’s sister wear a badge that had her name on it in bold script?
There are only three ways he could have gathered that information. Either she told him her name during the course of her treatment OR the name was mentioned by one of the family members while the doctor was present OR he got it from her medical file. All of the above sources of information are off-limits for this eventual use he put it to. In fact, if you want to get technical about it – getting personal information through dubious channels about someone without their knowledge or consent for a, later, pre-meditated interaction in order to establish an unwarranted rapport or ease of access that may or may not be welcome is“stalking”. Stalking, mind you, is a crime.
The question now becomes, does the hospital have anything to say about it given its own responsibility to protect information entrusted to the hospital by the patient, given this misuse?
Well, it kind of depends. It depends on whether the act is even seen to be a violation of their hospital’s policy. Interestingly enough, there is no readily accessible public record of a Code of Conduct that Agha Khan Hospital adheres to on their website, at least. However, I did find a particularly interesting entry (section 3, point 4) in the general code of conduct of the Agha Khan University, affiliated with the hospital.
I’m not surprised, though. Universities, these days, usually go full Nazi on students because they are easy to push around. I don’t, necessarily, doubt that codes of conduct have a positive effect on the eventual grooming of young scholars. But the entire thing does stand out as ridiculous given the contrast with how little is known about the same organization’s code of conduct for professionals who work there and interact with clients. One is not even sure whether the staff, themselves, are aware of their organizational code of conduct. I hope, though, that a similar mindset pervades throughout the body given that the nature of the violation is exactly the same. There is some evidence, too, to lend support to this hope. The doctor has been suspended (not fired.Suspended!!) from duties pending an internal investigation and it remains to be seen what the hospital uncovers. That much is at least in keeping with this student-version of their CoC. My point is: Agha Khan Hospital , you’re not exactly an innocent bystander in this equation – pull up your socks, man!!
Lastly, is this harassment, sexual or otherwise?
I don’t think it is. It is unprofessional. It is unethical. And it is still a crime given that a case can be very easily made to establish the unauthorised accumulation of information i.e. stalking – pending the findings from the hospital’s internal investigation. But it is not harassment. See, calling this incident “harassment” is problematic at best. Some consider harassment to have a “repetition” component i.e. the aggressor need to repeatedly commit an act for it to be inescapable ‘harassment’. I don’t necessarily agree with that. You can put a gun to a person’s head just once for it to be sufficiently harassing behaviour. Having said that, declining a friend’s request from a doctor from an emergency room that you will probably not encounter again isn’t exactly crisis inducing. That does, in no way, take away from the severity of the situation - a crime (in my opinion) has still been committed (stalking and inappropriate use of personal information) and it is more than sufficient to end Dr. Love’s not-so-magnificent career, should that be necessary. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater on this. There are clear-as-day incidents of explicit harassment throughout the country which need to be tackled with a clear understanding of what harassment actually is and one should actually move away from befuddling the issue. Almost every woman you talk to (and yes, a lot of men too – I’m not leaving you out, don’t worry) have encountered sickening incidents of harassment, often on a regular basis. Estimates say 40% of female internet users have faced cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment at some point in time. But at a juncture where harassment is only JUST beginning to be digested by wider society as a problem (remember: the women’s protection bill – the first bill of its kind – was made into law just a few years ago) using this incident as the defining watershed moment for harassment may be playing too weak a hand where a much stronger one is required. It may turn out to be completely counterproductive.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan, as in other ways, is still stuck in the British Raj era on matters of evolving crime. Where our leadership is too busy quibbling over who is more corrupt and role models are few and far between, one can’t really expect good, concrete and progressive legislation. Given the sorry state of our education system and priorities, I guess it’s up to each one of us to decide where we draw the line.
A few things for sure, though. The topic of harassment is front and center in public discourse, for a change. And Dr Love isn’t about to do THAT again, anytime soon. Good things, right?