Russian unorthodox: The Bullies Who Wear White Coats
Published: November 9, 2011 (Issue # 1682)
The video shows a skinny, naked man of about 60 lying on the table, his stomach sliced open. An energetic team of nurses and doctors scurries around, flexing their muscles, filling syringes, sexily writhing their hips. Before you figure out what’s going on, the camera offers a close-up of the man’s intestines, to remove your last doubts that the whole thing is happening for real. And it is accompanied by a disco beat fit for a wild dance party.
This recording, posted to YouTube by someone calling himself TvNovoaltaysk in early October, is part of a shocking series of homemade “reality shows” filmed by the hospital’s doctors. No important detail was spared. Viewers see not only a spinal tap being administered but also procedures including the removal of a cyst and sewing up the wound, with doctors smiling throughout.
In October, some patients’ relatives recognized their family members in the video clips and sued the hospital for abusing the patients’ rights. The Altai Krai prosecutor’s office is investigating the claims, and the clips have been removed from the web.
Earlier this fall, another hospital video, this time from a psychiatric hospital in a village in the Krasnoyarsk region, shocked online audiences. A clinic nurse was staging erotic scenes and no-rules fights among the patients, filming them on his mobile phone, and then posting them on his blog. The man’s colleagues said the recordings were popular for their comic value and were widely circulated among residents of nearby villages.
At some stage, the video got into the hands of someone who passed it to the police. But this nurse-turned-filmmaker may escape punishment because of a legal technicality: some of the episodes were shot three years ago.
One of the clinic’s doctors, interviewed by Channel 1, attempted to defend the nurse by speculating that the scenes were not staged, given, he said, how common violence is in psychiatric hospitals. As for the ethical side of filming a disabled person without their knowledge and the public ridicule of sick people, the doctor offered no comment. The hospital’s chief doctor, Grigory Gershenovich, did admit that the filming incident had shamed the hospital and said the nurse had been fired.
It seems that some medical personnel in Russia treat their patients as animals or human waste. In a recent scandal, it emerged that doctors in a hospital in the Far East had made their patients carry the corpses of fellow patients who had died of tuberculosis from their wards and load them into vehicles outside. Videos of patients carrying bodies were posted on the Internet. The head doctor of the clinic has resigned, but no criminal case was launched because the investigators found it impossible to prove that the patients had been forced to drag the tuberculosis-infected corpses.
Why do medical personnel dare to behave like this? Clearly because they know that the punishment, if it ever comes, will be nominal. Even if they lose their jobs, there is no ban on continuing in the profession. If the abuse takes place in a psychiatric ward, doctors can blame just about anything on a patient’s mental condition. Because the system is essentially opaque, it would be virtually impossible to prove otherwise and get a sadistic medical worker prosecuted.
There is almost no precedent in Russia of clinics paying compensation, even for straightforward medical mistakes. A group of patients infected with HIV in a hospital in Elista more than 20 years ago are still seeking justice. These people, who suffered discrimination and isolation because of their illness, still have not received a kopeck in compensation.
A trip to the hospital is becoming something of a game of Russian roulette: You never know what’s going to happen — doctors may be filmed toying with your internal organs, you may be made to carry infected corpses, or your fellow hospital patients may beat you up as the nurses cheer. And thank God if the doctors don’t infect you with HIV in the process. Only one thing is certain: the chance of moral damages being paid is zero.
A full version of this commentary is available at Transitions Online, an award-winning analytical online magazine covering Eastern Europe and CIS countries, at www.tol.org.