Speaking Out

Speaking Out

A few months ago, I listened to a popular podcast called “Doctor Death.” In this captivating yet alarming podcast, Laura Beil investigates Dr. Christopher Duntsch’s medical career and life story [3]. His story is hard to believe and I had an even harder time believing that it took place in the United States, and recently. This case was horrific, and while it is certainly an anomaly, the corruption, ethics violations and bureaucracy involved in this case made me question the quality of our healthcare system.

Dr. Duntsch was a neurosurgeon who was convicted in 2017 of various crimes resulting in the maiming and death of numerous patients [3]. He was the first physician ever to be convicted of crimes committed while acting as a physician in the operating room [3]. Dr. Christopher Duntsch’s case was entirely unprecedented. While his brazen and rash actions are far from the norm in American hospitals, this story is still alarming. Not only did this particular case unsettle me, but it also reminded me of many other cases in which physicians and other esteemed figures in society wildly abused their power and position.

In the last two years alone, physicians such as Dr. Larry Nassar and Dr. George Tyndall grabbed the nation’s attention with sexual abuse scandals of epic proportions [4, 5]. Dr. Larry Nassar, former doctor for USA Gymnastics and sports medicine physician at Michigan State University, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting around 300 young athletes and gymnasts [5]. Approximately 500 current and former students at the University of Southern California accused Dr. George Tyndall, a gynecologist at USC, of sexual misconduct [4].

These scandals, like Dr. Christopher Duntsch’s case, are of unprecedented proportions and reasonably cause alarm. Doctors are esteemed figures in society and we trust them with our personal information and place them in charge of our health and well-being.

This problem of authority figures abusing their power is not limited to doctors. Recently, Pope Francis held a summit in Rome to discuss the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church for a number of years [2]. Members of the clergy, who, like doctors, are respected figures in society, repeatedly abused thousands of people around the world [2].

These problems all boil down to abuse of power and a failure of institutions to take definitive actions to prevent this sort of behavior. Dr. Duntsch should never have been able to operate on several of his patients, but physicians and hospital boards wary of paperwork and legal battles silently let him go, rather than detailing his repeated failures and incompetency [3]. Similarly, Dr. Nassar and Dr. Tyndall were allowed to continue working despite numerous accusations of sexual misconduct [4,5].

As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” [1]

We must speak out and combat abuse, even when it is a logistical nightmare or when this decision is unpopular. Hospitals, universities, physicians and clergy alike should fight to defend the people they serve. We need to work towards a culture of honesty and accountability, and it must be made clear that inappropriate or abusive behavior will not be tolerated in the medical field, or in any other profession.

Bibliography

1. Brainy Quotes. www.brainyquote.com/quotes/edmund_burke_377528. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.

2. Burke, Daniel. "Pope calls for 'concrete measures' as summit on clergy sexual abuse begins." CNN, 21 Feb. 2019, edition.cnn.com/2019/02/21/europe/vatican-clergy-abuse-summit-thursday/index.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

3. Dr. Death, Wondery, wondery.com/shows/dr-death/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

4. Kennedy, Merrit. "USC Reaches $215 Million Settlement Over Gynecologist Abuse Allegations." NPR, 19 Oct. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/10/19/658909013/usc-reaches-215-million-settlement-over-gynecologist-abuse-allegations?t=1548867485315. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

5. Kirby, Jen. "The sex abuse scandal surrounding USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, explained."Vox, 16 May 2018, www.vox.com/identities/2018/1/19/16897722/sexual-abuse-usa-gymnastics-larry-nassar-explained. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

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