The Forgotten Man of Socialized Medicine

A couple weeks ago I pointed readers of this blog to an excellent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, written by an orthopedic surgeon, Daniel F. Craviotto, who took a stand against growing government control of his livelihood.

At, Ralph R. Reiland, an economics professor in Pittsburgh, thoughtfully compares Dr. Craviotto’s statements with those of Dr. Hendricks, a character in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. In the novel, Dr. Hendricks is a distinguished brain surgeon who quits his profession rather than submit to government controls.

Reiland reprints a portion of Dr. Hendricks’s explanation of why he quit medicine, but the entire statement is worth reading (or re-reading):

“I quit when medicine was placed under State control some years ago,” said Dr. Hendricks. “Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I could not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, or the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward. I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything — except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the ‘welfare’ of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, but ‘to serve.’ That a man’s willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards — never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy. I have often wondered at the smugness at which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind — yet what is it they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn. Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce. Let them discover, in their operating rooms and hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it — and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.”

In For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand calls the doctor the “the forgotten man of socialized medicine.” To avoid being forgotten in today’s health care debates, doctors must, as Dr. Hendricks does, champion their right to practice medicine on their own terms.