President Dr. Shanta Madhavan,
Secretary &Organizing Chairman
Prof. Sir S.Arulkumaran,
I have not figured out why I have been given the honour of inaugurating this important conference of obstetricians and gynecologists, about whose profession I know very little. My encounters with them have been few and far between. I was myself born without them. My mother gave birth to four boys with the assistance of an untrained, but experienced midwife, who performed her job with bare hands, except for a pair of scissors. I had no option of being present at the birth of my two sons, one in Tokyo and the other in Delhi, but even if I had, I would not have volunteered to be present. I had even shied away from watching a Malayalam movie, which created history by showing childbirth!
Perhaps, Dr.Jayakrishnan thought of me as he had heard that diplomats could speak much without having to say anything. But then, why did I accept the invitation? I accepted the invitation simply because diplomats do not say “no”. As the old joke goes, the difference between a lady and a diplomat is that if a lady says “yes”, she is no lady and if a diplomat says “no”, he is no diplomat. As a result, I have found myself making speeches on many esoteric subjects. A couple of years ago, I inaugurated a conference of cardiologists. I got away by waxing eloquent on the romantic aspects of the heart.
The profession of doctors is coveted not only in India, but also around the globe. One of the most sought after jobs among Americans, at least Indian Americans, is that of a medical doctor. An apocryphal story illustrates this point. According to this, an Indian American was being sworn in as the President of the United States. His mother, who was present at the ceremony, was visibly proud. Someone sitting next to her remarked that this must be the proudest moment of her life. “Oh no. This is nothing. His elder brother is a medical doctor!”
All doctors save and preserve lives, regardless of their specialty. But no specialty is as vital and as complex as obstetrics and gynecology. One of India’s greatest soldiers, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw said once that his only regret in life was that he did not become a gynecologist. Of course, he was not thinking of saving lives. He was just being naughty!
You have a vast array of responsibilities, ranging from preventing birth in some cases to promoting fertility in others, two seemingly opposite functions. Only because of you, infant mortality has reduced around the globe over the years. Equally important is the health of women, who have the responsibility of sustaining the family. Perhaps you are the only doctors, who have to take care of two lives at the same time.
Problems related to pregnancy, childbirth and rearing of children make women the weaker sex, while men are expected to do the hard physical jobs. Women are susceptible to problems arising out of childbirth, but it is that very experience and the pride of motherhood that make women mentally stronger and capable of facing adversity better.
Others in the medical profession do not deal with as many ethical questions as you do. Apart from having to deal with matters of sex, which are intensely personal and emotional, moral questions such as birth control and gender based infanticide. Female infanticide is a major problem in India even today and it upsets the very balance of nature. Now there are even regulations, which prevent tests that determine the sex of the baby in early pregnancy. Counseling about moral and ethical issues is an important aspect of your work.
Mental stress is also an aspect that you have to handle. Patients must be transferring their stress to the doctors, adding another dimension to your profession. Since the health of the society depends on the health of women, you need to treat mental stress in women at critical moments in their lives. Social medicine is vital to remove prejudices and to overcome suspicions.
In many ways, you play a crucial role in shaping the future of this nation. From reducing the maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate to aid the nation attain the Millennium Development Goals, to ensuring the good health of adolescent women; from sparking hopes of seeing a baby to an infertile couple to mopping up the scourge of the deadly cervical cancer in women; from being torch-bearers of women empowerment in the country to transforming the mindset of a people who mercilessly attempt gender-based sex selection and female infanticide, from being the unfailing friend to every mother, sister and daughter in this country to being the erudite scientists innovating newer scientific solutions to her problems, the enormous role that obstetricians and gynecologists play in today’s India couldn’t be emphasized more.
Perhaps, you may not have thought of the role you play in determining the horoscopes of the citizens of the country. The moment of the birth of a child is determined entirely by the obstetrician and the time given to the father or grandfather outside becomes the basis of the horoscopes cast by the astrologers. Difference of even a second can change the configuration of stars and planets in a person’s life. See how you determine the life of a child from the womb to the tomb!
I am sure that, like other professions, your profession must have also changed because of the technological revolution. Surrogate mothers have become common. In the future, a time may come when babies are made to order with the right mix of chromosomes in the laboratories. Cloning of human beings is now more than science fiction. But, regardless of technology, the world will always require competent, sensitive, caring and kind obstetricians and gynecologists.
The conferences like these are meant to sharpen your tools and to share experiences. I have noticed what a busy programme you have for three days. I do hope that you will have a fruitful conference. As I inaugurate this conference, I wish you the very best.
Live in Harmon