Do no harm: The foundation of modern medicine since Hippocrates, the creed that taught physicians treatments better than shamans, witch doctors and quacks. An approach to healing that focuses on objective scientific results rather than anecdote or emotion. Antibiotics instead of blood-letting, X-rays above incantations.
This year has seen our leaders, from the local Assembly to the U.S. Senate, called upon to make decisions about our health. An unfair tasking, given that most of these well-meaning individuals lack medical training or experience. Worse still, they have been asked to treat not just one person at a time but entire communities, basing their decisions largely on the advice of others. Without the years of practice, “do no harm” is not the basis of their logic and, because of that, emotions and anecdote have all too often guided decisions.
A city is a living thing, its residents and their businesses its cells and organs. When we ask a part of our community – for example, our restaurants – to stop functioning, we hurt all of us, but the people who work in those businesses most of all. There must be both a compelling, logical reason to take such a step, but also a great compassion for that part of our city once such a decision is made. It is our community’s responsibility to help those we hurt in the name of our greater good. This is morally right, but even more, it is the compact between our government and our people. Leaders of Americans must care, and be shown to care, for every one of their citizens.
It is a very hard thing for physicians to learn, and they have years of formal training and experience to accomplish it, that sometimes the right thing to do is to do nothing at all. Let us hope that our leaders can rise above this, be extraordinary, treat our community as a whole, and reopen our businesses. Failing that, help them with every means at our disposal. We are in this together – if our restaurants, businesses, neighbors must hurt to help the rest of us, then we and our leaders must help them. Better still, we could simply decide that now is the time to reopen and recover.
John Morris, M.D., is an anesthesiologist. He lives in Anchorage.
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