ETHICS VS HUMANITY
AND THE WINNER IS…………
Fifteen or so years ago, as a member of the Rotary Club of Tucson Sunset, I along with others, was asked to make a presentation about the ethics of my profession. What follows is the information I presented to that group.
A 27 year old male presented at my office with severe neck and upper extremity pain. He was, at that time, a sophomore at the University of Arizona.
His x-rays showed perhaps the worst looking neck I had ever seen. He had a perfect cervical curve. Unfortunately, instead of going in the forward (lordosis) direction, it was going absolutely in the opposite, backward direction (kyphosis). (I love using technical terms so you think I am really smart).
As I recall, his treatments began in September. In November, he asked me if I would write a letter on his behalf so he could drop a class for medical reasons, rather than withdraw with a failing grade. Considering the extent of his issues, I wrote that letter on his behalf.
As time passed, he improved, but the structural issue was not, as yet, resolved. However, the frequency of his treatments decreased.
During homecoming at the U of A, his parents visited Tucson and came to my office during his scheduled appointment. While he was receiving therapy, they asked if they could speak with me. I share what they told me.
Their son was a “Wunderkind” in music, in particular, piano. His parents were convinced to send him to Europe for special training. He left home at age 10. When he left, he was an outgoing, gregarious, fun kid who loved sports. At age 16, this young man returned home, totally withdrawn, depressed, non-communicative and would not go anywhere near a piano.
His parents sent him for counseling but he would not communicate what had happened to him causing the drastic changes. While they, and I, had our suspicions, they were never discussed or confirmed. His total withdrawal was the reason he was so much older than other sophomores in his class.
Once again, in November, he came to me asking for another medical excuse letter to avoid failing another class. THIS CREATED A MAJOR ETHICAL DILEMA FOR ME. As a patient, he had significant symptomatic improvement. His follow-up care was scheduled for every three to four weeks. I realized the structural issue had not completely resolved, but he was functioning, for the most part, without symptoms. I truly struggled with this decision. I had asked him to return in one week, at which time we would discuss his request.
When the patient returned to my office, I informed him that I had written the letter and gave it to him. My reason, which I did not tell him, for this “breach of ethics” was that, an adult or adults had seriously failed him in the past. I couldn’t, in good conscience, be another adult to fail him.
As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now for the rest of the story.” That young man graduated from the University of Arizona. He took and passed (an unusual occurrence) the CPA exam on his first attempt. He got a job in Phoenix working for Arthur Anderson Company.
When that company decided to leave Arizona, he returned to Tucson. His first job here was with Thomas Davis Clinic, Tucson’s first HMO, owned by a group of doctors. During his first month, he found a $100,000 correctable mistake. He was a hero.
While here, he decided to explore a possible law degree. He took the LSAT and not only did well, he had a PERFECT SCORE. Since he loved being here, he chose to attend the University Of Arizona School Of Law. He made the Law Review during his first year, and decided to also seek his MBA degree at the same time.
The young man and his family invited my wife and me to his graduation from the MBA program. After he attended the Law School graduation, we all got together for a subdued celebration. His gift from us, because he was really tall, was a wood book stand that could be folded flat or opened and placed on a desk. That way his head/neck would not be as stressed while he was reading.
He got a job with a well-known law firm in Tucson, best known for taking newly graduated lawyers and putting them through internship that, as in medicine, works them beyond belief. They also gain an amazing amount of experience.
In all honesty, I don’t remember his name. I NEVER tried to track him down, although I would love to know how he is doing. In my mind, it would cheapen what I had done and what he had accomplished.
Back to the opening title of this epistle. Obviously, I have given this a great deal of thought and still do. While I realize this type of experience is atypical, nevertheless they do arise. All societies must have laws/rules. Without them any society cannot exist or survive. Then again, some laws and rules are, at best, ill conceived. At worst, they are downright stupid. I refer you to the recent episode having to do with a passenger on United Airlines and far too many Home Owner Associations.
So what happens when ethics is in conflict with humanity? I am very comfortable when I say that ETHICS MUST ALWAYS LOSE. In my opinion, if we become a nation or world where rules and laws are more important than humanity, we have really lost the reasons to live as a society and human race. And, if I am correct, God will be proud of me for putting a person before ethics.