Doctors and medical groups from the U.S., U.K., and Australia expressed their opposition to a recent decision from the Medical Council of India (MCI) to bar people with more than 80% locomotor disability from applying to medical schools. These letters have been filed by Satendra Singh, MD, a disability rights activist who is challenging the government’s decision in court.
The ruling is opposed based on its arbitrary disability level. “We would have to provide high-quality robust evidence that this threshold was key in determining the performance of a doctor,” said Kelly Lockwood, MD, of the U.K.’s Disabled Doctors Network.
The MCI lists several conditions that would preclude individuals with disability from applying to medical schools, including hemophilia, thalassemia, and sickle cell disease. The new restrictions also require that a doctor must have “both hands intact,” a regulation that Dr. Singh contends is unnecessary due to the use of robotic surgeries.
These rules stand in contrast to previous Indian court rulings in favor of those with disabilities who were denied entry to medical programs. The courts ruled in favor of both Muskan Shaikh, who is missing a hand, and another student who suffered from a chronic neurological disability.
India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment already has legislation to protect those with disabilities, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, but is opposing its enforcement in the area of medical school admission. In an affidavit filed by the ministry in response to Dr. Singh’s case, the organization stated that doctors with disabilities could pose a threat to patient care and safety.
The ministry also stated they had considered the views of all stakeholders when developing eligibility criteria for doctors. However, a government information request by Dr. Singh revealed that this was not the case, leading the Madras high court to decide in May 2019 that doctors with disabilities should have been considered before the government formulated the criteria.
Despite this decision, there are still strict guidelines for those with disabilities seeking to apply to medical school in India. There is only a 5% intake reservation for people with disability, and only those with between 40% and 80% disability would be eligible for these reservations.