On the occasion of the Third National Bioethics Conference of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, the editors of the journal and the coordinators and collaborators of the conference are.
privileged to honour Dr Sunil Krishnalal Pandya for his contribution to ethical medical practice, for increasing the public’s awareness of bioethics, and for his untiring advocacy to bring ethics to the centre stage of health care and into the conduct of health professionals.
Born in 1940, Sunil Krishnalal Pandya studied medicine at the Grant Medical College and the Sir J J Group of Hospitals in Mumbai. After obtaining his postgraduate degree in general surgery in 1965, he trained in neurosurgery under Dr Gajendra Sinh. He completed his further studies under Prof Valentine Logue at the Institute of Neurology, Queen’s Square, London. In 1975, he joined the Department of Neurosurgery at Seth G S Medical College and KEM Hospital in Mumbai. After 23 years of service at this public hospital and prestigious medical college, he retired in 1998 as Professor and Head, Department of Neurosurgery. Since then he has worked as a neurosurgeon at the Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai.
His contribution to the discipline of neurosurgery, through his research and writings in leading national and international medical journals, testifies to his status as a leading neurosurgeon as well as an exceptional contributor to the further development of the discipline. But he is taller than other great clinicians and scientists because of three additional virtues in his character, and his contribution flowing from these virtues is no less than his contribution to neurosurgery:
First and foremost is his commitment to ethical medical practice. He does not like to preach what he does not practise. He believes that students are intelligent, and that they soon see through our pious verbal outpourings if we talk about ethics but do not put these principles into practice. Many health activists have struggled to impress upon doctors that they must communicate with their patients, and also give them access to their medical records. Dr Pandya began by making the time to talk to his patient at length – drawing diagrams on blackboards and on paper if needed. He always made a carbon copy of the patient’s medical record and handed this over at the end of the consultation; this was not an easy task in the busy public hospital where he served. He continues the same practice even today at the private trust hospital where he works.
The second characteristic that sets him apart from his colleagues is his constant effort to look beyond the narrow discipline of clinical medicine to the fields of medical history and bioethics. This interest led him to document the history of his alma mater, the Grant Medical College, to trace the development of hospitals and medical services in Mumbai, to write the history of medical ethics from ancient times to today in India, and so on.
The third characteristic that has earned him accolades as well as disapproval from the medical profession is that he says what he considers is right; he is never afraid of how he will be received or perceived by the audience. He always uses simple language and comes to the point quickly His comments on trends in the medical profession and services, in medical journals, in the IJME and in lay publications, have provided sensitive medical professionals food for thought, and pushed them to do something to change the situation. He tried to keep away from the limelight and refused to give priority to activism over being a role model in his practice. But on the urging of friends he did come forward to fight the Maharashtra Medical Council elections in the year 1992 on the platform of the Forum for Medical Ethics. This was a turning point for the process of reforms in the elections to the medical council in Maharashtra. It also eventually led to the birth of a journal that is now the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. He has continued to write with exceptional candour on the Medical Council of India; this includes a long piece indicting Dr Ketan Desai, at a time he was a revered and feared personality in the profession, and long before his arrest and the dissolution of the Council.
Over and above everything that he has done as a person, a medical professional and a reformer of medical practice and services, Dr Pandya’s contribution has been in laying the foundation of a medical ethics journal. From 1991 to 1998, his office in the Department of Neurosurgery at the KEM Hospital in Mumbai was also a hub of bioethics activities. Every Wednesday, from 5 pm onwards, week after week, month after month and year after year, he hosted a meeting for anyone and everyone interested in bioethics. In each meeting he would generate discussion on an issue in bioethics. He would bring literature for everybody to read, he would get bioethics films to view and discuss, he would invite bioethicists passing through the city to speak. These weekly meetings also inculcated the spirit of collective functioning in those involved in the journal’s publication. Though Dr Pandya had the most responsibility as editor, he never avoided the back-breaking manual work of bringing out the journal. He also ensured that he provided space to all others who were involved, to contribute. Above all, he consulted them and ensured that he carried the group with him. He made everyone commit to ensuring the timely publication of the journal, a tradition that has been upheld by all editors after him and one that has helped make the journal a success. He taught us to be inclusive and tolerant of other people’s viewpoints, and to make the journal a genuine platform for interaction to learn and enrich bioethics.
He is a very humble human being. He attributes everything good that he is doing to what he learnt from his teachers, who are his role models. He is shy of taking credit for what the IJME is today, and will only say: “I started a small newsletter. People more talented than I made it an internationally recognised journal.”
Indeed, a humble beginning with a solid foundation is always more enduring. The IJME completes 18 years of uninterrupted and regular publication today. In last five years, it has attracted a large number of institutions and individuals to ally with it in organising three national bioethics conferences. This inclusiveness, openness, and capacity to provide a platform to all who care for high ethical standards for health professionals and practices, will endure thanks to the solid foundation laid by some remarkably humble people. We express our gratitude for Dr Sunil Pandya’s contribution and are proud to know that he is always with us and helping us in taking this work ahead.