October 18, 2002
1945 IST

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Indian doctor in UK suspended for six months

Shyam Bhatia in London

An Indian doctor in the United Kingdom is starting a six-month suspension this week for encouraging trade in organs from live human beings.

A committee of the General Medical Council found Dr Jarnail Singh guilty of serious professional misconduct after members decided he had encouraged a dying man, whom he had never met, to have a kidney transplant from a live donor.

The 49-year-old doctor was found to have acted in an unprofessional and irresponsible manner that would not be in the best interests of patients.

The ruling comes less than two months after another doctor based in London told undercover reporters that he could organise a kidney transplant in Britain or abroad for a fee.

In Singh's case the GMC committee heard secretly taped conversations of Singh discussing the possibility of conducting a kidney transplant from a live donor in India.

During the conversation with two undercover journalists at his clinic, Singh failed to discuss the dangers of non-gene-related organ transplants. He also discussed the cost of the organ in the black market.

One of the journalists, Paul Samrai, told the GMC committee that he became interested in the illegal sale of organs to Western countries while working in India in 1999, and came across Singh's illegal trade.

Samrai said, "I contacted Neville Thurlbeck, a reporter with the News of the World, and we posed as the friend and son of a man dying from kidney disease. We secretly recorded our conversation with Singh."

Samrai said Singh was relaxed, supportive, and encouraging. He knew what the reporters were proposing to do and was very happy to assist.

The committee was told that in one conversation, in November 2000, Singh had told the reporters to pay the donor Rs 200,000 [less than $5,000] for the transplant.

Singh had said that he was aware of dozens of cases every year where people went overseas for live donor transplants, but denied arranging the operations.

The GMC committee was told that Singh failed to mention the danger involved in the operation and also did not inform the two men that their proposal was illegal.

The committee was also told that Singh had discussed the advantages of conducting the treatment in England rather than in India, and he allegedly acted as a facilitator of patients going abroad for live donor transplants.

Following Samrai's testimony, the committee decided that Singh's behaviour had amounted to serious professional misconduct, though he had stopped short of facilitating any such operation even when he was offered the equivalent of US$7,500.

Committee chairman Rodney Dickson said, "We find this to be a serious incident of misconduct on your [Singh's] behalf and have already discounted a reprimand and conditions. The committee has therefore directed the registrar to suspend your registration for a period of six months."

Singh's counsel David Morris said, "Dr Singh knew that it was illegal and unethical, and he has apologised. He is a very caring man."

Singh will have to undergo an educational programme in medical ethics to resume practising. He was cleared of charges of facilitating the trade of organs from living donors, but admitted to discussing and encouraging it.

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