No Politics in the Exam Room?

Leana Wen, MD - Wikipedia

By D. Joy Riley MD, MA (Ethics) - Posted at CMDA:

One of the many reasons I entered the medical field was because I innocently thought medicine was apolitical. It did not take very long to see—even as a medical student—how very wrong-headed that idea was! So it was with some surprise that I read recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) the article about Leana Wen, MD, entitled, “New Planned Parenthood President: No Politics in the Exam Room.”

Dr. Wen is presented as an attractive, young, intelligent and driven woman in the article and its accompanying photo. Her’s is the story of a poor immigrant ascending the ladder of success in record time. The article is replete with details of her accomplishments. That is not all, as there is also an edited version of an interview with her. Her philosophy and political opinions come through loudly and clearly. In fact, the manipulation of language in the article is positively Orwellian.

In 1946, Eric Arthur Blair, otherwise known as George Orwell, penned an essay that speaks to our time as well as his own: “Politics and the English Language.” He wrote it to counter the “half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes,” claiming that “it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes….”

Orwell’s essay came to mind as I read Dr. Wen’s interview. A comparison of the two is instructive. Indeed, Dr. Wen’s interview should not be read without juxtaposing it with Orwell’s essay. It is Orwell who provides the key for our understanding of not only Dr. Wen’s interview but also the entire JAMA article. What follows is a comparison of quotes from Orwell and Dr. Wen, to be read in the context of traditional Hippocratic medicine.


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