Doctors' membership in professional chambers remains compulsory

On Thursday, the Lower House of Czech Parliament rejected a proposal submitted by the Civic Democrat MP, Marek Benda, who had called for the abolition of compulsory membership of the Czech Medical Chamber, the doctors' professional association. A row which had erupted between the head of the Czech Medical Chamber, Dr. David Rath, and the Civic Democratic Party over the issue has now calmed down. However, as Alena Skodova reports, the doctors' victory might be short-lived.

Dr. Rath
Although Dr. Rath has won the battle for compulsory membership in the medical, pharmaceutical and dentists' chambers, his victory was a bitter one, some say. But Dr. Rath said he was satisfied with the vote:

"Had the Lower House passed legislation envisaging that membership in the Czech Medical Chamber is voluntary, then we would definitely have problems when entering the European Union, because professional associations exist in practically all EU countries."

Despite his defeat, the author of the law, Mr. Benda, remains optimistic as well:

"We shall see. The proposal wasn't passed, but it failed by only six or seven votes," he told the press.

The Lower House has agreed that the Czech Medical Chamber is here to protect professional, not social interests of their members. By doing so, it showed support for those who complain that dr. Rath, a former doctors' trade union leader, has been gradually changing the association into a trade union organization. Despite his victory in the Lower House, dr. Rath faces strong opposition from the majority of his colleagues. They demand that membership in the Czech Medical Chamber be voluntary - an idea, which paradoxically dr. Rath himself defended a few years ago. Back then, he even refused to pay his membership fees to show he was serious about it.

The whole matter stirred up tension on the Czech political scene earlier this week, when Dr. Rath compared the Civic Democrat leader, Vaclav Klaus to the Communist president Klement Gottwald, who allegedly pursued the same practices against doctors some 50 years ago, when he abolished the medical chamber after the Communist také-over in 1948. The Civic Democrats retaliated verbally, and Dr. Rath demanded that Mr. Benda's proposal be withdrawn. If not, warned Rath, he was going to launch a pre-election campaign under the slogan, "If you vote for Vaclav Klaus, you vote for Klement Gottwald". But after Thursday's vote in the Lower House, the medical chamber cancelled all its planned protest actions against the Civic Democrats, because some of the planned protests - such as sending patients to Vaclav Klaus - would most likely not find understanding with the majority of Czech doctors.

Analysts assume, however, that dr. Rath's victory in the Lower house on Thursday is only a temporary one, because most right-of-centre MPs consider compulsory membership in the medical chamber a relic of the past and nonsensical at a time when the freedom to run a business is an inseparable part of the democratic system in the Czech Republic.