A Trust Betrayed

Scripps-Howard News Service 2.20.02
Balint Vazsonyi

In matters of trust, few if any acts may be compared to human beings delivering their body to the discretion of other human beings who happen to be physicians. If this unlikely act is repeated countless times every day, it is largely attributable to certain expectations. These are based on a solemn undertaking physicians have embraced for about two thousand and five hundred years.

It is known as the Hippocratic Oath.

Salient quotes from the venerable text: "The regimen I adopt shall be for the benefit of my patients according to my ability and judgement, and not for their hurt or for any wrong." And later: "Whatsoever things I see or hear concerning the life of men, I will keep silence thereon, counting such things to be as sacred secrets."

Come now the European Federation of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians, and the American Board of Internal Medicine, designating members to develop a new charter.

One is well-advised to remember Aladdin and his lamp. "New for old" has been a big red flag almost as long as we have had the Hippocratic Oath. But, of course, the least likely occurrence in our philosophically impoverished age is the development of anything really new.

And, indeed, the proposal gives itself the lie before long. Its sole purpose is to do away with medical ethics, and replace them with medical politics, or politicized medicine, if you prefer that formulation. It is like history standards that do away with history, or multiculturalism which does away with culture. As in the other instances, the goal is to be achieved by introducing "social justice" into the charter as a primary objective.

There is nothing new about "social justice." Although its origins are attributed to the Roman Catholic Church, it has long been the battle cry of socialists and communists. (Check the web site of Socialist International's U.S. arm www.dsausa.org for verification.) Sadly, it has become a staple for Americans who blend genuine good will with demagoguery.

Social justice is so useful a phrase because it sounds as if the speaker were committed to something specific. In reality, its meaning can be - and is - altered at will. Example: in 1970 social justice called for students generally to dictate university policy. In 1990, it demanded specifically that Harvard have a black woman teaching law.

Anything is possible because social justice, in and of itself, has no meaning whatsoever. Having traveled the breadth of these United States, partly to find anyone able to define social justice, I can report that no one, not even the executive director of the Institute for Social Justice in Topeka, Kansas, was able to do so.

The medical organizations currently brandishing "social justice" advocate redistribution of medical assets on a worldwide basis. As always, social justice calls for taking things away from people as the first step. That is so because the very term implies that existing conditions are based on injustice.

Committed by whom?

Of course, as Hayek explained, adding "social" as a qualifier before nouns invariably makes nonsense of otherwise sensible words. America's founders certainly wished to "establish justice" in the Preamble to the Constitution. But social justice is the opposite of justice, because it substitutes a political slogan for a legal concept. At the heart of Anglo-American jurisprudence, and of the jury system, is the purpose to insulate the process from politics.

And at the very heart of the Hippocratic Oath is the purpose to insulate the medical profession from politics. Do we really want commissar types to answer our call for chest pains or a broken thigh? Are we comfortable with a doctor who, before deciding what to do about our kidney stone, first considers the state of medicine in all member states of the United Nations?

Justice is a matter for the courts. Pain and suffering requires the attention of persons devoted to the principles articulated more than two millennia ago, and yet to be improved upon, even as medical science has made giant leaps forward. There are, and ought to be, two participants only: patient and doctor. Not the whole wide world.

The 60's generation that has disowned just about every other tradition and link with the past, now has our physical welfare in its cross hairs. They need to be reminded that the sole societal order which claims to be based on social justice calls itself communism.

Is that the goal some of them have in mind?