The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Easy to die in Thailand if you’re not a VIP… man denied an ambulance is proof

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 14•13

In Bangkok, all of a sudden you have a stroke and an ambulance is called. You’re a photographer there to cover a news story. Everyone in the medical profession knows that it’s critical to get you to the hospital within an hour, before you begin to lose brain function that will soon be unrecoverable. You’re awake, so you know exactly what’s happening. You’re loaded in the ambulance, but it doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there, not moving. Your splitting headache is killing you. Literally. Minute by minute. You say “Doc, I’m losing it. Help me.” But no one helps, and you lie there, your brain slowly hemorrhaging to death. Finally, after 30 minutes, your ambulance finally leaves for the hospital, your EMT crew relieved that another ambulance arrived to take its place. After all, an ambulance always has to be available at the Thai Parliament in case a politician needs an ambulance. But you’re only a photographer, and your life isn’t worth as much. Based on the law, you’ll wait until another ambulance arrives. In the meantime, if an MP (Minister of Parliament) needs and ambulance while the backup ambulance is on the way, you could be put out on the sidewalk. But the replacement ambulance wouldn’t take you either, as it would be there solely for the MPs. 

This isn’t fiction. It happened this week at the Thai parliament, where photographer Sakol Sandhiratne of The Nation newspaper suffered a stroke on January 10, and was delayed critical treatment for thirty minutes, while his ambulance waited for a replacement ambulance to arrive. The law states that Ministers of Parliament must have an ambulance available to them at all times. The story has captivated a nation, propelled by newspapers angered particularly because the victim was a member of the press. Sandhiratne is expected to live, but his brain function has yet to be determined. It could very well be that he’ll never be the same again. 

VIP treatment for the privileged is part of Thai life. Traffic coming to a halt on Sukhumvit to allow a fleet of cars carrying VIPS is relatively commonplace. But valuing the life of an MP over a photographer, considering that medical assistance was at hand but not given, has shocked the country. The Nation’s op-ed page had it right, in its headline of January 13, 2013: “The case of a news photographer being denied medical help at Parliament is a deeply disturbing indictment of an uncaring society.” In Thailand, Parliament makes the laws. The fact that it has made one elevating the lives of MPs over those of the common people doesn’t set an example for ethical fairness or — with the exception of royalty — the democratic tenet that opines that all are created equal. 

And what of the Hippocratic Oath supposedly taken by the medical professionals that denied help to an individual that was, essentially, dying?  It’s easy to die in Thailand. Fall off a building, get hit by a bus, or cover an event at Parliament. Today, several days after the event, Sandhiratne remains in critical condition, has not regained consciousness, and has been diagnosed as having a severe brain injury.

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