Treating Everyone Fairly

Wednesday, 31st December 2008 at 9:00 UTC 1 comment

Having discovered recently that it is no longer required that new doctors swear it, I was somewhat thankful to read a defence of the Hypocratic Oath shortly afterwards. This ancient statement of duty, as the author of the article notes, tells us just how eternal the temptations that face medical professionals are, as people trust their very lives to their safekeeping time and again. But one area of medical ethics is not touched upon which we should perhaps return to: treatment of all, regardless of creed or allegiance.

Outside one of my favourite pubs in London stands a statue. The pub, by the way, is the Chandos, which is a Samuel Smith pub by the Portrait Gallery and St Martins in the Field, and which serves beer and bowls of chips at prices low enough to be afforded even by myself, despite being in the very heart of the West End. But I digress…

The statue is of a Woman, her name, Edith Cavell, inscribed on the block of stone beneath her feet, along with the inscription “Patriotism is not enough”. Whilst working with the Red Cross in Brussels during the 1st World War, she treated not only Allied, but also German troops. She kept professional neutrality, without disconnecting herself from reality.

But let us, for a moment, bring this event into a modern context. At a time when lawyers feel under pressure of guilt by association when dealing with clients accused of terrorism, do we risk losing this key principle? If left a bomb in the Tubes, and was slightly hurt whilst trying to get away, would the medical staff who treated him or her be later reviled for simply doing their job without asking questions? Looking back to the first world war, over 90 years ago, its easy to pardon this as great humanitarianism, but a bomber in London today? Wouldn’t there be questions? Perhaps outrage? Perhaps questions of aiding and abetting terrorists?

Its hypothetical, but if we follow many of the trends in modern law making, it is not without the bounds of possibility. In amongst all the shoving through of legislation, could treating a political enemy become a crime? Could the police be able to refuse medical treatment to a suspect? How quickly would this come to be abused? The state has already reserved the right to mark certain people out as unworthy of normal human rights, so how can we guarantee that even those people receive due medical care.

This isn’t about sympathy. Its about not letting fear and division create a situation where the medical profession becomes politicised. Its already a requirement to make sure anyone vaguely foreign has the privilege to be treated under the NHS, and Doctors are being threatened with sanctions if they don’t turn such patients away. What kind of sanctions might be imposed if this politicisation continues and someone treats an “enemy”?


Entry filed under: Ethics, Health, History, News, Terrorism.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. brainduck  |  Wednesday, 31st December 2008 at 11:45 UTC

    It’s an irrelevant question without universal healthcare – which the Govt is doing its best to demolish without anyone noticing.


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