Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Report on the Vital Signs of the Profession of Medicine: We're sick, but we're Fighting it

This post conforms to the blog rules.
I recently sent out a mass email inviting the entire College of Medicine and the entire College of Nursing to an event cohosted by the Bioethics club and Med Students for Life.

(Ooh, I hate sending out mass emails! The trauma of clicking "send" when you know four thousand people will receive the message makes me wince and shiver.)

As you can imagine for an event cohosted by a bioethics club and a pro-life group, the topic is slightly controversial. But this story isn't about the controversy stirred up by the speaker. Ho no! Just the name Med Students for Life generated this response from an unknown physician professor:
To imply, as the name of your organization does, that not all physicians are "for life" is ludicrous. Of course we are. That is why we became physicians--to preserve life. But while I do not personally perform abortions, I do support a woman's right to make decisions regarding her health and what happens to her body. Why not simply call yourselves Medical Students Against Abortions? Or is that not sufficiently charged politically?
Obviously MedSFL has no problem getting enough political charge.

The doctor has a beautiful point, though: doctors preserve life. I was just talking with my probably-pro-choice classmate this morning about how doctors want to make things better. We were speaking about our Humanities selectives and I mentioned that my professor seems like the typical lawyer: he talks fast and a lot, he is opinionated, his vocabulary is sophisticated yet peppered with profanity, and he mentioned in one breath that he had a taste for social work and a taste for blood (meaning the figurative blood of the people he grills in courts). He's a divorce and child welfare lawyer, and acknowledges that half his time is spent tearing families apart. Yikes.

My classmate and I were musing, 'thank goodness we belong to a profession that most people enter to put things back together, to preserve and protect.' So this doctor hits the nail on the head: doctors enter medicine to preserve life.

I'm sorry that this doctor does not feel that the unborn patient falls under our professional jurisdiction, but I don't need to spend space rebutting his position (even though the decision to abort is in over 90% of cases not pertinent to a woman's health and is in 100% not pertinent to her body alone--oh, oops), nor do I need to demonstrate that "against abortion" is not the same as truly "pro-life" (when a consistent ethic of life, i.e. being pro-person and pro-human dignity across all ages, races, abilities, etc is the core any good pro-life group like MedSFL--oops again).

I calmly replied, apologizing for any hurt he felt and gently explaining that our group's name is not designed to degrade doctors, but is meant to encompass a consistent care for unborn patients, pregnant women, and women for whom pregnancy would be dangerous or inconvenient. Calmly as my words seemed, I was a little shaken by the vitriol. Aren't we supposed to be evidence-based people? People eager to hear lectures and read papers, providing that they're scientifically rigorous? Aren't we supposed to let the little things (like student organization names) slide? And would you send something like that in response to an invitation?

Moreover, I was surprised at the age of the argument, that a woman's body is her domain. According to research by Charles Kenny and the Right Brain People (not the political right, the neurological right) showed that women realize that a fetus is alive and has a right to life, but that killing that life is the least of three evils they face when caught in an unplanned pregnancy.

So the email disturbs me on several counts: first, it admits that our profession preserves life while defending the opposite (it's inconsistent); second, it displays a sort of uncharacteristic emotionalism not accepted elsewhere in the profession but routinely accepted on this issue; third, it exhibits outdated perceptions of female patients in a profession allergic to anything outdated and chauvinist. It appears that medicine, not unlike the legal profession, is sick.

Oh, I told myself, at least we're not sick unto death, like the profession of law. Then that the doctor sent a reply to my reply to inform me that "what [I was] saying is that [I] want to impose [my] value system on all patients. But," he asked me, "are you going to force a Jehovah's Witness with a life-threatening GI bleed to accept a blood transfusion? Of course not. You are against abortion. Fine. Then call your organization what it is. Medical Students Against Abortion." I did not reply to this one.

The profession of medicine has a stage IIB (of IV) cancer and we're starting some aggressive chemotherapy. Young doctors and medical students are dragging speakers into their med schools and demanding that others look at the issue and think consistently (drat the decline of liberal education). Check out MedSFLA's fall tour schedule and their 2013 Conference and see what I mean.

This has been your report on the profession of medicine's vital signs. We're sick, but we're fighting it!

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