Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Double Bill: The curious case of Dr. Susan Lim
If you follow the Singapore news, you will know of Dr. Susan Lim, one of Singapore’s path-breaking surgeons. Willy nilly, the top surgeon finds herself mired in controversy these days.
The doctor has asked the Singapore High Court to disallow a second disciplinary committee’s constitution by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) to look into a grave charge on her. According to reports, she allegedly overcharged one of her royal patients (Penigran Anak Haja Damit) and billed the Burunei palace $24.8 million for breast cancer treatment between January and July 2007 just before the patient died. The council wants to investigate if the claims of mark ups and inflated bills made by the relatives of her patient, the deceased sister of the Queen of Brunei, are true.
Yesterday, the high court resumed hearings in her case. Dr. Lim was absent from the day long hearing but her lawyer explained how her invoices added up. The Straits Times reported today: “The SMC’s portrayal of Dr. Susan Lim marking up certain bills is false, mischievous and scandalous, her lawyer told the high court yesterday.”
Days in Paradise
From Europe on a skiing trip with her children, Dr. Lim tweeted: “Lessons in life go against the grain of doin good; never provide services even to a regular client without payment upfront; it can backfire.” (March 20)
If you know the background of her case, you will know what she is possibly alluding to.
Her next tweet is: Life is beautiful.
Is it? For her?
If you look at today’s newspaper’s headlines, you would wonder: What must be going on in her mind? Of course, she is rich. She has hired an expensive Queens Counsel, Ian Winter. Yet, moving between Moutiers to Courchevel, where she wants to enjoy the freshness of spring skiing, don’t the headlines from back home weigh her down?
What intrigues me is this: why did she bother to take on the establishment, the SMC and so on? Why does she want to fight back? Why does she want a judicial review?
Is she fighting for her reputation? If so, what’s wrong with that? A doctor’s reputation is all that she has. It is a delicate thing—takes a lifetime to build. One misstep and it is sullied. In today’s digital age, damage to one’s reputation stays for ever—a lifetime of embarrassment.
Is she fighting to get her millions back? The bills that, even after a fifty per cent discount, remains unpaid?
If that is the case, is it (to attempt to get one’s due back) a commercial dispute (between the doctor and the patient’s family) or is it a breach of medical propriety?
I think this question is at the heart of the matter.
Beyond the surface
The intense media coverage that this case has garnered—coupled with the fact that it affects Singapore’s image as a great destination for medical tourism—puts the onus back on the media. The media needs to get to the bottom of the matter.
Dr. Lim sounds very concerned when she tweets like this: “Let not an honest citizen be trampled upon by public authorities when their injustice and irregularities are exposed.”
What injustice? What irregularities?
If there are irregularities indeed, will the media uncover them? Dr. Lim is again skeptic: “the challenge to the media in reporting, is to delve deeper than merely scratching the surface and to report with substance and intellect.”
What is it that Dr. Lim wants the media to find out and expose? What’s beyond the surface? Is there something we have not seen yet?
Now that it has been revealed that the second SMC panel’s head was a rejected admirer of Dr. Lim and SMC’s rebuttal that its rule was not changed to target the beleaguered doctor, it would be interesting to see how the case moves forward and how does the media go after the proceedings. I think it is a great chance for the Singapore media to show its mettle.
What do you think? Which way will the case go? Will the institutions hold Singapore’s reputation of being a just and fair country? Will the media step up to the plate?