Ask Your Doctor Whether Your Political Views Are Right For You

When I was growing up, I had the world's most kick-ass doctor. He made house calls. He could explain to a child or a parent exactly what was wrong and how medicine would help in words that both child and parent would understand and appreciate. He was always on the razor's edge of state of the art meds and techniques. He was friendly but firm and decisive. In his spare time, he traveled to distant and obscure lands to give free health care to local kids and then search for and photograph rare orchids. Dr. Jack Fowlie looked, and acted, exactly how you wanted your doctor to be.

Because of this, he had an enormous amount of influence over me. It would have been childishly simple for him to abuse that influence — to abuse that level of trust that he earned, and my dependence on his judgment — to indoctrinate me with ideas unrelated to my treatment.

Some folks see that as a feature, not as a bug.

England brings us the latest round of let's-use-doctors-to-push-our-social-agenda nanny-statism. Via Nobody's Business, I see that something called the "Climate and Health Council" wants doctors to talk to patients about the health dangers of global warming.

They believe that offering patients advice on how to lower their carbon footprint can be just as easy and achievable as helping them to stop smoking or eat a healthier diet.

. . . .

"Overall, what is good for tackling climate change is good for health. Who better to spell out this message than health professionals? "We have the evidence, a good story to tell that dramatically shifts the lens through which climate change is perceived, and we have public trust."

He said the health service was often “muted” on the subject of climate change and needed to make its voice heard more.

He added: "To maximise our influence, we must be much clearer than we have been to the public, to patients, and to politicians about the risks of doing nothing and the benefits to individual and global health of effective action."

Does the climate impact everyone's health? Certainly. So do a thousand other social and political issues that impact us as a society. If you accept the premise that doctors should lobby us all on global warming, there's no reason they shouldn't lobby us all on war, and government spending on research and health care, and education, and stem cell research, and any number of other things. Before long, a visit to your doctor will be like that endless Thanksgiving dinner with that uncle who got a tattoo of Glenn Beck, or the cousin who won't speak to you because you refused to serve tofurkey.

We've slowly ramped up to such pestering. First we made doctors report all injuries resulting from violent crime. Then we started passing laws making them mandated reporters of types of violent crimes that are of preeminent on our social agendas, such as domestic violence. Then some political groups began to lobby to have doctors interrogate patients about handgun ownership. And, of course, the state can't allow your doctor to assist you to the extent his or her views of pain relief diverge from the received wisdom of the Great War on Drugs.

In short, we've slowly letting the government and various busybody groups wield increasing influence over the conduct of the doctor-patient relationship. That relationship — like the attorney-client relationship — is fundamental to freedom and autonomy. Your doctor is supposed to be looking out for your best interests, not the relatively nebulous best interests of society as a whole. Sometimes you don't like your doctor's advice — and that's fine. But you shouldn't have to be worrying that a doctor's advice is governed by a political and social agenda imposed upon him or her from some interest group.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. rxc says

    This is all part of the "nudge" strategy to control the populace. You enroll lots of people who don't otherwise have a role in a particular issue, and you get them to spread the message. Very Gramsci.

    Of course, when the behavior doean't change, you need to take stronger actions, and turn the "nudgers" into informers and enforcers…

  2. wfjag says

    Sounds like what is needed is a 12-step program to help people eliminate carbon dioxide from their daily lives. Let's call it CO2 Anonymous.

    Step 1: Stop exhaling.
    Step 2: . . .

  3. Linus says

    It's interesting that you compare the doctor-patient relationship to the attorney-client one, because attorneys are explicitly officers of the court, yet it's much easier for attorneys to say (and have the attitude) that they represent and work for the client, and the client's interests are paramount (within broad ethical lines). How does a doctor get to a point where they see themselves as representing and working for the government or Society, rather than their patients? I realize it's an extreme example, but if a doctor thinks his primary duties run to Society, not you, and he honestly believes your continued existence is bad for Society, how is that going to end? Not well.

  4. Timothy Harris says

    > How does a doctor get to a point where they see themselves as
    > representing and working for the government or Society,
    > rather than their patients?

    Ahhh, but this story is from the United Kingdom where doctors *are* employed by the National Health Service, aka the Government. Government run single payer health care can't help but shift the relationship between doctor & patient

  5. DMS says

    Another sharp post – the first thing I thought when I saw this story elsewhere was "I wonder what my GP's view is on the safety of initialising the The Large Hadron Collider?".