The Wisconsin Protests and the New Medical Ethics

During the recent Wisconsin protests pitting the public-sector teachers’ union against a governor attempting to rein in their overly generous benefits, several doctors were caught on camera apparently handing out fake work excuses to the protesters. Although this might seem an outrageous breach of professional ethics, it is actually entirely consistent with the new brand of “progressive” medical ethics currently taught to medical students. And these apparent breaches of professional ethics displayed in Wisconsin may be an ominous foretaste of future problems Americans can expect under ObamaCare.

In Madison, Wisconsin, the MacIver News Service spotted a group of people in white coats purporting to be physicians agreeing to sign “sick” notes for protesters in seemingly excellent health, thus allowing them to miss work without penalty. One doctor signing notes was apparently a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin.

One blogger posted the fake “sick” note he received from the doctors. He observed, “I am not a teacher, but I managed to get a note. They did not ask for any identification or where I might teach. They were literally handing these out to anyone and everyone.”

University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse spoke with one of these doctors who was completely unapologetic for his actions, saying that it was “not dishonest” but rather “an ok thing to do” because it was in the interest of “social activism.”

These sorts of moral rationalizations are an entirely predictable outcome of the new form of “progressive” medical ethics being taught to American medical students.

Most Americans are familiar with the traditional version of medical ethics, in which a doctor’s primary responsibility is to his patient. As Dr. Jane Orient explains, “Traditionally, medicine is practiced by physicians, one patient at a time.... The standard of care is the Oath of Hippocrates: providing treatment for the good of each patient according to the best of the doctor’s ability and judgment.”

In traditional medical ethics, a doctor’s primary responsibility is to tell his patients the truth and to treat his patients according to his best honest judgment, skill, and ability.

But a new form of medical ethics is being taught in medical schools that tells doctors to place the needs of “society” ahead of individual patients. At best, it forces doctors to juggle the truth and the interests of their patients alongside “social” considerations. At worst, it will give them license to sacrifice their professional integrity (and their patients’ interests) in the name of “society.”

In 2002, the American College of Physicians proposed a charter in which the three guiding ethical principles for physicians would be: patient welfare, patient autonomy, and “social justice.” In 2007, the AMA ITME (American Medical Association Initiative to Transform Medical Education) reported on the importance of training medical students to be better advocates for “social justice,” and proposed changes in the medical school admissions criteria and curriculum to address this perceived inadequacy.

As a result, medical schools are now increasingly admitting students based not on competence in the sciences, but rather on their commitment to “social accountability.” Medical school ethics courses are thus increasingly emphasizing “social justice” over traditional notions of ethics — or the individual patient’s welfare. But “social justice” is frequently just a euphemism for a socialist political agenda of leftist politics, redistribution of wealth, and heavy state controls over the marketplace.