It may be that a major casualty from the pandemic is the damage done to the medical profession. Healthcare is being used as the defence and rationalisation for policies we should revile. Rather than instilling faith in public health, and in medicine – government policies have undermined the foundations of medical ethics and caused a huge amount of damage to trust in public health measures.
The bedrock principle of science is not just that we might be wrong, it’s that we are wrong.
Everything we discover will be surpassed by subsequent knowledge, which in turn is wrong, but by incrementally smaller amounts. This was Popper’s simplified axiom of falsifiability – that science seeks to prove itself wrong – whereas pseudoscience seeks to prove itself right.
Once we cease to practice medicine in a way that is deferent to the fact we may be mistaken, several consequences follow.
In forgetting we might be wrong, we make ourselves unable to admit when we are wrong. Once we start treating dissenting opinions as heretical, we in turn stop questioning the efficacy or the consequences of our own policies. This applies on a personal level, as well as a national one.
As a society, we must ask ourselves how we will gauge the efficacy of a policy, be it vaccines, masks or lockdowns. By making such things mandatory, it becomes very difficult for us to critique them impartially. If we have destroyed the lives of millions of people by lockdowns, how will politicians be able to be honest if it is discovered they don’t work? For us as medical professionals, if we endorse vaccine mandates, how will we be able to impartially discuss the risks of such interventions?
What is more, the fact we have belittled and silenced minority voices means that we are setting up a scientific paradigm within which we stop questioning ourselves. Similarly, we stop addressing patient concerns, and our studies run the risk of confirming their own biases. Indeed, if we cannot make the case for a voluntary intervention, it should be an indication that we are doing something wrong. Such changes undermine the moral basis for the medical profession.
This happens directly, as we are externally pressured by government agencies to be vaccinated ourselves, as well as indirectly when our sense of moral self-righteousness is given free rein to belittle people who disagree with our advice. In this, we forget the fact that because someone may have a medical degree that doesn’t give them a greater morality in weighing public policy.
It should concern us that large corporations like Telstra are advocating for vaccines. Anyone who gets their health advice from a telecommunications company is clearly in need of help. However, it is disturbing that companies such as this feel the need to try and influence healthcare policy. By doing so, they help to erode the credibility of a medical professional who should be advocating vaccines on a personal basis to those where the benefits will outweigh the risks. This should be a personal decision, made between a patient and their treating clinician.
More broadly, the whole notion of ‘the right thing to do’ is flawed as it firstly claims to know the future. Secondly, it removes the individual from the equation. It may well be that the risk from the vaccines is diminutive compared to the benefit. However, if you’re the rare individual in their 20s who dies from myocarditis, that is little consolation.
We are on the cusp of creating a society where petty bureaucrats control access to daily activities; where we have to show documentation to go shopping, or see our friends. There is always a justification for draconian policies – usually it is the greater good, safety, or public health. This time, the medical profession is at the forefront of these policies. We should be cognizant of this fact.
The sad conclusion from this saga is that this pandemic could have been the moment where we made a fantastic case for vaccinations. We could have seen how innovation in the private sector has united with government backing to create a vaccine that saved lives.
Instead, the government first overplayed the risks of vaccines, and now underplays them – coercing people to have a vaccine that seems to be as much for political gain as for public health, all the while benefiting large pharmaceutical companies. No wonder people are skeptical.
With policies such as these, there is no defined end-point. There is a real danger that this attitude towards healthcare and government becomes a positive feedback spiral, where ‘the greater good’ overrides any other precedent.
As medical professionals, we must not let medicine be co-opted by politics and we should not allow a short-term expedient to undermine the moral basis of our profession.
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