Gun safety, gun rights.
On reading these words, some have immediately assumed that I’m a far-left liberal who is proposing breaking into their homes, stealing their guns and melting them down to make a statue of a kneeling, gay football player to place on the National Mall.
Still others have immediately assumed that I’m a far-right conservative speeding by in my rebel-flag-waving, coal-rolling, king cab pickup with my loaded AR-15 in the baby seat on my way to snake-handling prayer services.
A third group may have already stopped reading this because I have beheaded the daisies in the meadows of Utopia by daring to give voice to controversy.
Then there is the fourth and what I believe to be the largest group — those who fall somewhere in the middle, who realize that something needs to be done, who want to find a solution, who want to do right by the health and safety needs of their patients but who don’t want to be beaten up by the voices from the extremes. This group wants to take on the difficult task of having meaningful, passionate and respectful conversation on a vastly important issue. It is in this group that I believe physicians, other medical professionals and organized medicine should and do indeed sit. Why? Because history tells us so.
Let’s quickly shift to the issue of tobacco use/smoking. It wasn’t that long ago that magazines featured ads where physicians promoted cigarettes as good for one’s health. But today, one would be hard-pressed to find a medical professional who would not agree that tobacco use is extremely hazardous to one’s health. Why the change? Because the medical community took the lead to exert political pressure to change social norms and improve health policy. Physicians dared to speak the bold truth of what they knew was in the best interests of their patients. It certainly wasn’t easy and indeed it took years, but finally, even Virginia, the tobacco capital of the world, banned smoking from restaurants and other public places.
Or let’s talk immunizations. Who made possible the advances in public health and disease eradication as a result of vaccines? Who drove immunization laws? Again, who led the charge for social and political change for the health and safety of those whom they serve? Medical professionals. And who will keep the “my-Google-trumps-your-medical-degree” anti-vaxxers at bay? The medical community, bolstered by science and reason, that’s who.
Seat belts, medical cannabis oil, elder driver evaluation, OSHA regulations, food safety, drug regulation, the opioid epidemic … the list goes on and on. All of these came about (or at the very least were greatly bolstered) because doctors and other health professionals acted on what they knew were the best interests of their patients to make the necessary changes in society, in policy and in law.
In all of these instances, the House of Medicine took a reasoned, logical and scientific stand to do the right thing — even when there was plenty of capital (political, philanthropic and corporate) at stake. In every one of these advances, the medical community did not allow itself to be silenced by the extremes nor allow profit to take precedence over principles. I believe our medical academies and societies, our local, state and national physician organizations should be that space where reasoned, science-based and even daring dialogue takes place on tough issues. We are already talking about issues of obesity, diabetes prevention, substance use disorder, physician burnout and mental health. Shouldn’t we be talking about the clear implications of gun violence on health?
I truly believe that physicians, medical professionals and organized are uniquely positioned to provide a safe space for discussion, a space for reasoned creativity and a space of informed and daring decision-making. The medical community has a unique history of innovation and of putting the needs of patients and progress above the shouts from the extremes.
If one knows the whole story of Pandora, one knows why it’s so important to this column. When she opened the box, death and many other evils were released out into the world. Pandora hastened to close the vessel, but the contents had escaped except for one thing that lay at the bottom: hope.
Jim Becker is executive director, Richmond Academy of Medicine.
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