Dr. Theodore Reiff honored Christopher Newport University by presenting his lecture, The Subversion of the Learned Professions: Medicine to the LifeLong Learning Society and the Reiff Center. Dr. Reiff, a retired Medical Doctor, experienced and lived through the devolution of American Medicine under its profits based system, and argues that the Doctors have lost their power to the Hospital Administrators, and that the hospital budget has become more important than a patient’s health, especially in the latter years of life.
Dr. Reiff argues that people who dedicate their life to do good, such as healthcare professionals, can be subverted by societal goals or legal policy. It reminds me of the ideal that Science is a neutral party, but it can be used for good or evil, such as atomic research. In exchange for the horrors of nuclear weaponry, society also received civil nuclear power, which is a vital piece of the global energy market.
One of Dr. Reiff’s research passions is the horrible actions taken by the Nazi government of Germany in the 1930s and 40s, and he focused most of his talk on this subject matter. The designation of Jews as “Sub-Human,” which allowed for the Third Reich to foster horrible experiments by Medical Professionals.
In the name of Science, Doctors perpetrated serious human rights abuses against the non-Aryan population. Examples of this include Dr. Gerhard Rose, who forcibly injected his patients with dangerous pathogens in order to discover how the human body reacted to them, and if a treatment was possible. Doctors also exposed subjects to extreme hypothermia, high altitudes, and mustard gas in order to find treatment for Nazi soldiers experiencing similar conditions on the battlefield.
Other experiments focused on discovering the fastest and most efficient way to kill someone, through injections of petrol and other deadly agents. And a further branch of the research focused on establishing the anthropological superiority of the Aryan race. All of these experiments violated human dignity, and abandoned the morals and goals of the healthcare profession.
Even though these horrible experiments were exacted on those in concentration camps, another plan was enacted in the late 1930s, by the Reich and Dr. Karl Brandt, known as the “T4” Program, designed to decrease the financial cost of the nationalized healthcare system. Under the program hospital committees were organized to decide which patients could be euthanized to lower costs, these included chronically ill patients, the senile, the elderly, and any of those considered no longer “useful” to the Third Reich. At the end of it over 100,000 Aryans were euthanized in the name of “financial expediency.”
At the conclusion of the war, the International Tribunal held a second Nuremberg Trial in order to hold the medical personnel accountable for their horrifying experiments, many of whom were found guilty and put to death under international law.
These examples demonstrate that medical personnel can find themselves at the mercy of societal pressures and goals. Dr. Reiff argues that it is often the nicest and most well-educated people who are capable of committing the most awful of crimes. These doctors found themselves in a broken society, which allowed them the mindset and opportunity to carry out dreadful actions, all for the “greater good.”
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Our lives begin with a doctor, are filled with trips to the doctor’s office, and quite often end with a doctor in the room. I am glad that I can’t remember the earlier trips to the pediatrician, as needles stress me out to this day. My earliest memories include two nurses, my mom, and the doctor all holding me down to receive some inoculation or another, and screaming my lungs out. Even so, these traumatic experiences are overshadowed by the importance and trust we place on doctors, nurses, and all of those in the medical profession.
However, this trust is in serious danger, according to Dr. Reiff and others. They believes that health care in this country has been compromised and the profession of medicine has been subverted by the abandonment of a patients-first in favor of a profits-first model. The subversion of the medical healthcare system can be attributed to the lack of government regulation, as capitalism has allowed for businesses to establish powerful influence on medical costs.
Decision making based on cost efficiency and politics of societal exclusion is ethically and morally wrong. Cost containment policies have led to a healthcare system driven by large private insurance companies, which in the process of making highest profits detrimentally affect the options and rights of patients in need of medical care. Big insurance lobbies pressure congress to continue these policies, which reduces government controls on insurance companies, and allows them to profit on healthcare. This symbiotic relationship harms the American public, as the cost and service reductions do not match the excessive amount we pay into the healthcare system.
While this model continues, American health will continue to be harmed, and the populous will find themselves at the mercy of insurance companies and hospital administrators. Dr. Reiff and others argue that the key to saving healthcare that we absolutely must remove economics from the arguments, and to instead focus on protecting protect fundamental human rights to life and dignity. It will require an informed public, cosmopolitanism, and an outcry against cost containment policies, which harm the health system, endangers the lives of vulnerable persons, and degrades the values of healthcare professionals. We must realize that policy and money is subverting the medical field’s lofty goals and sullying the profession of Doctor. Only then can we protect American values and the health of American citizens.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.