Friday, July 3, 2009

Flu: Docs need not swallow bitter pill

Andy Ho's review under the Straits Times Daedalus column touched on the interesting topic of a doctor's moral responsibility to put his life on the line for the patient, for example in the mamagement of pandemics etc.

His review entitled "Flu: Docs need not swallow bitter pill" contains the usual dispensing of confused ramblings. But it is an interesting topic....and it made me think about it for more than a while.

In a past generation this would not perhaps have been an issue. In fact it even have been scandalous to suggest that doctors would not be self sacrificial in dealing with patients' problems. Admittedly the level of self sacrifice and altruism would vary between doctors .... but it would have been scandalous to suggest that a doctor would not consider it his duty to put his life on the line to save a patient's life.

A doctor's lot, to my mind, is not very much unlike that of a soldier's calling to protect his country. One doesn't sign up to be a soldier unless one is prepared to be on the front line to be sacrificed in the line of duty. Likewise, one shouldn't contemplate being a doctor unless one is prepared to put his life on the line in the performance of his/her duty. To me there are no two ways about this. Medicine is a noble calling, and one which requires nobility of character and self sacrifice.

But it seems we live in a different world now. A world characterized by law suits, professional insurances and work contracts.

The British social commentator John Ruskin wrote (Unto This Last, 1860):

"Five great intellectual professions, relating to daily necessities of life, have hitherto existed – three exist necessarily, in every civilized nation:

The Soldier’s profession is to defend it.
The Pastor’s to teach it.
The Physician’s to keep it in health.
The Lawyer’s to enforce justice in it.
The Merchant’s to provide for it.
And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, to die for it.
‘On due occasion,’ namely: -
The Soldier, rather than leave his post in a battle.
The Physician, rather than leave his post in a plague.
The Pastor, rather than teach falsehood.
The Lawyer, rather than countenance Injustice.
The Merchant – what is his ‘due occasion’ of death?
It is the main question for the merchant, as for us all. For, truly, the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live. "

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