India’s decision to bar people with certain levels of disabilities from applying to medical colleges has shocked several doctors and doctors’ bodies from the US, UK and Australia. The doctors and doctors’ bodies have written letters expressing shock at India’s decision.
Dr Satendra Singh, who challenged the government’s decision, earlier this year has filed the letters in court. The Medical Council of India has insisted that a doctor must have two hands intact. But citing the robotic surgeries occurring all over the world and in India, Dr Singh’s petition says this is an unnecessary and redundant requirement. The petition also explains that several doctors with only one hand have graduated from places like Duke University and the University of Cincinnati.
Several courts in India have ruled in favour of people with disability on the issue of denial of medical education. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Muskan Shaikh who had one hand amputated, 75% disability. Another doctor with 80% chronic neurological disability is studying at the PGIMS Rohtak, after winning his case in court too.
According to the filings in Singh’s affidavit, the Association of Academic Physiatrists says they are “distraught” to hear of India’s “arbitrary decision” to impose these bars on people with disabilities. From the UK’s Disabled Doctors Network, Dr Kelly Lockwood said she finds the new guidelines “really shocking.” She questions the arbitrariness of 80% as a cut-off, as opposed to say, 78%. She says that in the UK, “We would have to provide high-quality robust evidence that this threshold was key in determining the performance of a doctor.”
From Australia, Dr Dinesh Palipana has lent his support, as a member of Doctors with Disabilities. He is also the first quadriplegic (paralysis on all four limbs) medical intern in Queensland, Australia. Lisa Meeks, from the University of Michigan’s medical school, has written a letter talking about a radiologist who is also a paraplegic (partial or complete paralysis of the lower half of the body) with limited hand functioning, at Stanford University. She says he is “successfully evaluating radiographs at Stanford Med. His productivity is in line with his colleagues. He dictates his notes but is fully capable of reading and interpreting the radiographs.” She has also provided information about various physicians who are also wheelchair users in the US. Like Lockwood, she too questions the evidence behind the decision to select 80% disability as the cut-off.
India’s legislation – the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 – is administered by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. But in Singh’s court case, the ministry has opposed the very provisions of the Act it is expected to administer. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has decided that doctors with disabilities could be a “threat to patient safety”. Along with the MCI, the Union Ministry is also a party to this case. The ministry told the court that while framing the eligibility criteria for doctors, the views of all stakeholders were considered. But Singh’s RTI request showed otherwise. He had sought information on the deliberations the government undertook while formulating these criteria. As per the received information, the government had not consulted any doctors with disabilities or organisations working on the rights of people with disabilities. Section three of the Rights of Persons with Disability Act says no person with a disability can be discriminated on the ground of their disability. The community fought in court for a range of other disabilities to be recognised. Then, the Act of 2016 recognised 21 disabilities, including disabilities caused by acid attacks.
Though there is a 5% reservation for the disabled people in the annual sanctioned intake capacity of students in government or government-aided higher education institutions, the government issued a gazette notification in February which said that people with disabilities and at specified levels, would be barred from taking the all India medical exam to seek admissions.
Dr Satendra Singh has also fought another battle to ensure that India’s medical curriculum includes a substantial component on disability rights. To include a substantial section on the issue, the MCI has recently updated and improved their curriculum after 22 years.
The MCI also bars people with haemophilia, thalassemia and sickle cell disease of 80% disability from pursuing medical education. Yet places like the University of California, San Francisco have successfully trained students with haemophilia.

Source: The Wire.