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Personal Is Political in Professional Practice

"Should a doctor treat an alcoholic who is injured due to drunk driving? Would your opinion change if it were just a solo accident v/s injuring/killing other people on the road?" asked @arshiet. The regular controversy. Should doctors judge their patients? Is it ethical to even ask the question of whether it is ethical for doctors to withhold treatment to anyone? What are the social determinants of alcohol use?

The issue is straightforward in the emergency room. You save life first and worry about alcohol and justice later.

But what about elective issues? If you are an obstetrician and you are pro-life, do you avoid elective abortions? If you are a pediatric surgeon and you consider circumcision as genital mutilation, do you avoid ritual circumcisions? Conscientious Objection - apparently that's what it is called.

One of the solutions offered is that the healthcare provider can be upfront about the moral position and arrange a different provider. This helps the patient to retain autonomy and the provider to retain moral clarity.

Basically, doctors can't simply cancel patients.

If we refuse to see the doctor-patient relationship as special, we can see that what's at play here is the tension between "personal is political", cancel culture, etc on one side and the practical realities of the world on the other side. I've personally gone through the self-isolation of ideological purism and come out with the ideology that it is okay to be altruistically pragmatic.

The world is full of people with incompatible ideas, values, and norms. If we start cancelling, we end up cancelling almost everyone. If we don't cancel, we become an apolitical mess. The point is then about finding alternatives to canceling everyone. You cancel some, you strategically avoid some, you engage sincerely with some others.

That intelligent, "nuanced", intersectional approach to politics is called life.


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Akshay S Dinesh
I am a general practitioner rooted in the principles of primary healthcare. I am also a deep generalist and hold many other interests. If you want a medical consultation, please book an appointment When I'm not seeing patients, I code software, advise health-tech startups, and write blogs. Follow me by subscribing to my writings

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