Posted in Political Institutions on Jun 22, 2019

The Ananda readers may have noticed the news this week concerning Nang Mwe San’s revocation of her licence to practice medicine by the Myanmar Medical Council (MMC).

A qualified doctor (general practitioner), Nang Mwe San is also a model, and she had been posting images of herself from her professional fashion shoots in lingerie and swimwear, as well as traditional Myanmar dress. The MMC said that "her dressing style is against Myanmar culture and tradition".

The debate over the MMC’s course of action rages on social media. Some feel that the MMC were right to revoke her licence, believing a medical doctor should be beholden to traditional cultural norms, even outside the workplace. Others argue that it is none of the MMC’s business what she wears outside work, and she said herself that obviously "she is not dressed like that when treating patients"! Some argue this is an example of how patriarchal societies oppress and control women using terms like ‘traditional culture’ to construct a myth of female inferiority.

However, it is not the job of the Ananda to referee this particular public debate. What we are interested in is whether the law actually supports such an action by the MMC. So, what does the law say?

Can the MMC revoke a medical practitioner’s licence?

Yes. The law gives the Council the power to revoke licences as one of its main responsibilities. Specifically the Council has a duty to ‘investigate, examine, and take action in case of failure to abide by and observe in conformity with the moral conduct and ethics of the medical practitioner’.

Is Nang Mwe San’s conduct prevented by the law?

The law has no specific provisions that prevent a medical practitioner from holding other jobs outside medicine. Nor does the law specifically prohibit fashion modelling. There is unsurprisingly no list of clothing items that medical practitioners are allowed to wear in their leisure time.

There is, however, a reference to the ‘moral conduct and ethics to be observed by medical practitioners’. The Council has a duty to determine what this conduct entails, and to establish committees for ‘Observance of Moral Conduct and Ethics’; and ‘Maintenance of Discipline’.

The law allows the Council to cancel a medical practitioner’s registration and/or licence on finding out that “although not convicted by a Court, perversion of moral conduct and ethics of a medical practitioner and being not suitable to continue serving as a medical practitioner.”

We have to assume therefore, that the Council is adopting an interpretation of the law that defines fashion modelling as: ‘perversion of moral conduct and ethics’.

Are there grounds for appeal?

Assuming the Council has adopted such a definition of ‘moral conduct and ethics’, there would be a case for appeal.

The reason given for Nang Mwe San being stuck off from practicing medicine was that ‘her dressing style is against Myanmar culture and tradition’. But there is no provision in the law that prevents medical practitioners from ‘going against Myanmar culture and tradition’. There is only a provision requiring ‘moral conduct and ethics’.

We can only wonder: Is the Council really making the case that dressing in a style inconsistent with Myanmar traditional culture goes against ‘moral conduct and ethics’?

The Council could perhaps apply an interpretation of the law that defines more revealing outfits as inconsistent with traditional social norms, but it requires a real stretch of imagination else to argue this amounts to perversion of moral conduct or ethics.

However, it appears from their own words (‘against Myanmar culture and tradition’) that they are really just against Nang Mwe San wearing modern, Western-style clothes. There is no provision in the law for this judgement, and the Committee must be held accountable for making judgements that are not consistent with the law, and which could be interpreted as discrimination and bigotry.

What is Nang Mwe San’s right of appeal?

The MMC law says that any ‘person dissatisfied with an order or decision may file an appeal to the Council or to the Minister of Health and Sport within 60 days from the date of passing such order or decision.

A way forward

There were also similar cases in the past revoking medical licenses of celebrity doctors. As the Medical Council exists mainly to ensure the professionalism of the medical practitioners, they should use their legitimate position in deciding whether an individual’s medical license will be extended mainly on that individual’s competence in practicing medicine. The most appropriate and fairest solution would be strengthening the system of Myanmar Medical Licensing Examination which they are implementing now.