The Relationship of the Ongoing Malpractice Crisis

By William Eliot Schuler, M.D.

Christian Medical Society Journal, November/December, 1994, Volume XXV, Number 6.

Israel was a spreading vine He brought forth, fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones. Then they will say, 'We have no king because we did not revere the Lord. But even if we had a king, what could he do for us?' They make many promises, take false oaths and make agreements; therefore, lawsuits spring up like poisonous weeds in a plowed field" (Hos. 10:1-4, NIV). 

As someone rightly observed, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Hosea was speaking to Israel, but like most true prophets of the Bible, he is also speaking to us, and our contemporary situation. Well, who would argue that ours fails to resemble the ancient one?

Perhaps we can be even more specific regarding medical practice and malpractice; that the ethical slide into abortion, euthanasia and other related "health-care ser­vices" has demeaned the medical profession to the point where it has not only lost all sense of the sacred, but is not generally known anymore as sacred itself, and thus becomes a legitimate target for any and all litigants-for increasingly trivial reasons. Could it be that the real "malpractice" that we are being sued for so often is our slip­pery-slope mentality, not the vain imaginings of other technical injuries? Practice consultants tell us that good relationships and mutual respect are the preventive aspects most valuable to avoid suits; and it makes sense that a "provider" who can't be bought to perform just any service is going to merit a lot more respect (even grudging respect from opponents) than one who goes and does as the highest bidder demands. 

Even Christians fail to realize the practical aspects of regarding life as sacred. It means that patients who choose us will not regard themselves as mere clients but as something far deeper involving more trust and, when needed, more forgiveness because of an involvement of the only Person who can imbue anything with true sacredness. When we ourselves try to perform this task, we further trivialize our patients' lives and our relationship with them, leading to ever more trivial pursuits of trivial complaints. 

Both natural and supernatural prophylaxes are at work here. The Golden Rule works on both horizontal and vertical planes. God loves us and respects our integrity, and we are allowed to reciprocate. Likewise, if we respect other human beings, they are more likely to respect us, even more so because the playing field is so level at the foot of the Cross. People do instinctively realize this because it corresponds to ultimate reality which we ignore, usually on the basis of a sheer act of the will. If we spare others and do not shed innocent blood, others, even pagans, are not so likely to call for ours in court. 

Just as the blood of Abel cries out from the ground, so do 4,000 pregnancy terminations daily in the United States alone, and we have
only begun to see the fallout in our profes­sion. The public (per­haps especially those who want abortion to be legal) is not merely
content to subcon­sciously punish those who put up with abortionists in their ranks and, therefore, is prepared to place us as physicians into its complete control, making us at best an employee, at worst a slave who will exist merely to do the people's bidding as we thought to selec­tively and electively do before. It is no coincidence that the very people who wish to take over legal control of our profession are the same folks who have pressed the hardest for abortion on demand. 

Coercive utopians are prepared to take over our practices and render us not unlike our former Soviet counterparts who earn slave wages and who are held in low esteem even as they passively consented to all Soviet mandates, up to and including the command to control birthrates through abortion-abortion being more "cost effective" than oral contraceptives, etc. The miserable status of medicine in the former Soviet Union, where human life up until recently has been accounted a cheap, materialistic phenomenon, can be ours also-and soon. This does not merely mean that the patients' lives become cheap, but also the lives of physicians, their families, and their increasingly shortened and disposable careers. We, like the fetus, become dispens­able. There is more than poetic jus­tice involved here.

One does not need to invoke divine justice, however, or blame God for anything, unless we plan to blame Him for His law of reaping what you sow. Whether this is divine recompense or not, it is not necessary to debate. But I will say this: God has been very patient and merciful and slow to anger. Certainly it is possible for things to get a lot worse, and they will if we pursue our present course-what is dif­ficult to believe is that it hasn't gone forward with more speed. It is surely because of His grace that we are not already consumed, not to mention enslaved. Our Babylonian captivity has no doubt already begun. 

In 1986 I published a less spe­cific letter in the AMA News using the quote from Hosea. Then, as now, I can think of only one appropriate way in which to end, which is the way that Alexander Solzhenitsyn began his acceptance speech for the Templeton prize. He quoted the old Russian proverb which became popular in the early part of this century: "Men have forgotten God-that is why all of this has happened." We have trusted in kings, kingmakers, chariots, horses, and mostly our­selves, and the fruits of our labors and the bitterness thereof speaks for itself.

William Eliot Schuler, M.D., is the sole family physician for Christ's Family Medical Center in Mendota, Ill., where he has resided
since 1979. (1994).

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