Friday, March 27, 2009

Organ-trading through the back door

Dear Friends,

The letter to the Forum page (see below) was sent a few days ago.

As the editor is taking a long time to decide if he should publish it, I feel that I should publish it now while it is still newsworthy and still fresh in your minds.

Personally I feel that this is an example of how bad laws still get passed through our parliament.

I am not arguing that all should agree with my views about transplant medicine.

It irks me that even when the details about the "hows" and "how much" of the compensation mechanisms are so sorely missing, an overwhelming majority still voted for the law to be passed.
What is the point of lifting the Whip? How many independently-minded parliamentarians do we have?

There is no need to hide in the shadows anymore. We can unashamedly say openly (just like Iran) that you can now come to Singapore from all corners of the world- bring your kidney donor with you, and you can pay him ( or to use the right word-reimburse him) at an amount to be determined in the future.

As it is impossible to police how the foreign donor uses the money back home- we won't. How convenient.

So one and all- We do not have organ-trading. You can come to sunny Singapore where you get serious money for your kidney. But I say again, we do not have organ-trading.
Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan
Addendum (27.3.09 2.30pm): I just found out that the letter was actually published this morning. Maybe one paragraph ( which I thought was quite "juicy") was edited out, hence it was unrecognised by me in the wee hours of this morning.

The Letter to the Forum Editor

Dear editor,

I have deep reservations about the latest legislation which allows for payment for living kidney donors.

Although Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan had categorically assured parliament that the new law did not seek to legalise organ trading, many including myself remain unconvinced.

If we truly only wanted to reimburse donors for their altruistic acts, and not let this become a backdoor for organ trading, the following safeguards should have been present:

1. Foreigners should have been excluded
Only local donors should be allowed onto this scheme as we can then monitor them within our system and either reimburse them for healthcare expenses related to the organ donation through direct payment or through lifelong medical insurance coverage. Compensation for loss of earnings and other more difficult computations can also be decided by a neutral committee.

To allow foreigners into the scheme opens a Pandora’s box as it is impossible to know what a foreign donor does with the money back home. He could literally put the whole lump sum down on some gamble and have nothing left when he needs it most.

To include foreigners is also a tacit admission that transplant medicine is big business that Singapore cannot afford to ignore.

2. Compensation details should be available before parliament vote

The details about mechanisms for quantifying fair compensation should be present before MP’s were asked to vote on what must have been a tough moral choice. These details must surely be the difference between the money being “compensation” rather than “profit” for the donor.

To be asked to vote for something which lacked any specifics at all might cause our parliament to be misconstrued as a “rubber-stamp” as many may consider voting for this legislation in such a way to be irresponsible and akin to writing a “blank cheque”.

I fear that Singapore’s reputation as a medical hub with a “high ethical standard” has been seriously eroded by the passing of this legislation.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Pseudonyms and anonymous blogging- Are nom de guerre still needed in Singapore?

Hi Friends,


What do Vladimir Il'ich Ulyanov, Yosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Saloth Sar and Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, have in common with Samuel Clemens and Charles Dodgson?

They are all famous personalities in history and they all had pseudonyms.

Their nom de guerre (French for “war name”) or nom de plume ( pen name) were Lenin,Stalin,Pol Pot, Carlos the Jackal, Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll respectively. (see wikipedia on Pseudonyms here)

Singapore also had her Chin Peng (real name Ong Boon Hua) and The “Plen”-ipotentiary (Fang Chuang Pi) who were leaders of the Malayan Communist Party. (See here and here on the Plen)

In the debate about anonymous blogging and use of pseudonyms, it is useful to remember the historical context in which pseudonyms were used.

History context on Pseudonym Usage

In times of war( especially guerilla warfare), the need was obvious. In other times, it was mainly tradition eg Monarchies (King George VI was born Albert Frederick Arthur George); Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Alois Ratzinger; Actresses including pornstars (Linda Lovelace (Deep Throat), the most famous porn star of all time, was born Linda Boreman); online world (use of handle,avatar or nicknames common eg Lucky Tan).

Perhaps of more relevance to the discourse about Singapore’s politics is the fact that from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, it was established practice for political articles to be signed with pseudonyms. For example the pen name Publius, was used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, in writing The Federalist Papers. And in Britain, political writer Junius (who was never identified) used his shroud of anonymity to great effect to expose corrupt. See wikipedia on Junius here

Junius’ letters were “considered by some to be invective though close inspection of his writings reveals a principled man centuries ahead of his time, exposing blatant corruption by the only means available (anonymity) in a country struggling with the idea of freedom of speech”.

I had written a post on my blog on this (here) and it was also published in the ST forum page.

Despite what I have written above ( esply about wartime use of pseudonyms), I still sincerely believe that in Singapore’s present political context, it would be more useful and more credible to use real names.

Lucky Tan's contention that “for many bloggers, our anonymity is to keep our friends, parents and relatives from worrying and not for any other purpose” is quite lame. (see here). I still read Lucky's satire and I like them as they are like a breath of fresh air.

Unless we are no better than Burma and N. Korea...

If you really believe that in present day Singapore ( let us not dwell in the past), to write or utter any alternative opinion would cause one to be jailed ala Burma and North Korea, that government agencies (eg ISD) are at this moment trailing your movements and tapping your communications and that we live in a make-believe Matrix world that would eventually reveal its true nature just before the ending credits rolled, then it is understandable to resort to anonymity.

But if you are not so paranoid ( or delusional), you should be like Gerald Giam, Alex Au and myself who feel that despite Singapore’s political scene being less than perfect ( to put it mildly), the establishment can and should can be engaged in a “real-world” basis.

We must have testicular fortitude

I still am convinced that one must have the testicular fortitude (balls) to stand up for what one believes in. We cannot help what our friends and relatives think about our political stands, but to live our lives cowering behind false camouflages is just plain “ sad”. And bloggers who only make anonymous comments which are nothing more than unconstructive barbs and diatribes are childish ( and should be ignored just as we ignore children’s antics).

Many people I know – who when they found out about my blog or my forum letters, were genuinely supportive. They would pull me aside in hospital corridors or even sms/phone me to say that they agreed with what I said or that they wished they had the courage to tell the government that all is not well on the ground and that it is time for substantial changes in our political governance.

No persecutions (so far)...

My work as a doctor has not been affected and patients (even from government-linked agencies) continue to see me. My interactions with government agencies (eg traffic police/telecoms/media etc) have not changed and my relatives’ chances of getting scholarships or employment are not diminished in any way just because of my outspoken views. I continue to be active in the medical circle ( election to councils and committees etc).

Fear as an excuse?

I used to say (and I say again) that “fear of the government” is very often used as an excuse to be inactive and apathetic. Period.

I may not agree with all the views of Dr. Chee Soon Juan nor am I completely comfortable about the notion of “gay marriage”, but I respect CSJ for his dogged determination and Alex Au for being open about his sexuality and using legal avenues to try to effect change.

Would we be better if dissenting views are "closeted"?

In a thought experiment- would Alex be as effective in changing government and public mindset about gay rights if he had remained “closeted” ( no disrespect intended)? On the same vein, if all non-establishment personalities ( eg Catherine Lim/Tan Kin Lian/Leong Sze Hian/Siew Kum Hong etc) had remained anonymous, would Singapore be better off? No, we could then just be conceding media space to the government’s propaganda machinery ( we know who these are) who already have near-monopoly of MSM.

On critical mass

I may be naïve, but I believe if there is a critical mass of people who dare publicly be associated with non-establishment views, the people and in turn the government would have no choice but to take notice and try to change in order not to lose support and votes.

Government's failure in allaying fear

From the palpable fear prevalent in Singapore, it is obvious that the government has been less than effective in convincing Singaporeans that it is interested in an “open and inclusive Singapore” as alluded to in PM Lee’s speech when he first took the oath as Singapore’s third Prime Minister in August 2004.

PM Lee said (click here for whole speech),
“We will continue to expand the space which Singaporeans have to live, to laugh, to grow and to be ourselves. Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different. We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as to understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions, and open up new spaces”…” Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore.”

Notwithstanding this, I will continue to engage openly and I hope you will too.

Friends, my blogname (nofearsingapore) is not ironic.

I believe in it and I put my money where my mouth is.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan