Friday, November 04, 2011

Is retainer medicine unethical?

Drs Thomas S. Huddle and Robert M. Centor answer that question with a well reasoned and emphatic "no". Surprising to me was that their commentary appeared in a prominent medical journal,Annals of Internal Medicine, that generally has been the site of a number of commentaries and articles promoting the notion of social justice and inserting into the basket of medical ethical principles the obligation of the physician to promote social justice. The "New Medical Professionalism " was introduced to U.S. medical audiences in the Annals.See here for abstract of the Huddle-Centor article.


A dual premise criticism of the retainer practice model is that is damages the furtherence of social justice as it applies to health care and that physicians have a ethical obligation to act to further social justice. Social justice is a usefully elastic concept and reasonable people may differ as to what it means in a given situation . It is also a key arrow in the quiver of those who favor a progressive and re-distributional agenda. It was inserted into the area of medical ethics by the New Professionalism by a small group of energetic and prolific medical "thought leaders" whose views may or may not be representative of the group whose thoughts they were leading.Nevertheless , many professional organizations accepted the package deal giving at least lip service to the notion and in my opinion without fulling vetted the concept or thinking through the consequences.To convince many medical professional organizations that to be "professional" a physician had to work for social justice was a very significant propaganda accomplishment.

Huddle and Centor cut to the chase with this:

..we should not assume that the pursuit of social justice is an integral aspect of physician identity,despite numerous assertions to that effect.We contend that social justice is a civic virtue that makes its claims upon physician as citizens.If we are obligated to further health care access for every member of society,we have that obligation as members of society,not as physicians.Promoting nonprofessional virtues or ethical imperatives is not the province of professional ethics.

Yes and amen. The authors of the New Professionalism did simplify assert that medical professionalism should include the obligation of the physician to strive for social justice.

Three years ago I wrote about the issue of social justice and retainer practice and framing the debate.See here. Once the nose of social justice was in the ethics tent we could expect that it would be used to rhetorically justify a given agenda or criticize opposition to it.It seems that some critics of retainer medicine are proposing banning the practice as they allege it decreases access to health care and is socially unjust. Well, a little coercion and restriction of individual freedom in name of social justice is occasionally necessary.

Previously I have suggested that the new professionalism project was a way,and increasingly it seems a successful way to high jack medical ethics for a social agenda.See here.

1 comment:

John A said...

The elssticity of "social justice" would include Dr. Josef Mengele's later work. In a twisted way he was, after all, trying to help his "patients" by finding a way to change them physically from appearing Jewish to seeming "Aryan" and being accepted as such, benefiting both them and the larger society.

I occasionally wonder what "societal good" I subscribe to that will turn stomachs in the future, and shudder.