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Humanize Medical Journal: Train Medical Students to Be Woke Social Activists

Originally published at National Review

There the New England Journal of Medicine goes pushing woke agendas again. This time, the extremely politically progressive medical journal has published an article urging that medical students be taught that left-wing social-justice engagement should be among their professional duties. From “Physicians as Activists”: 

This question [the social justice role of the physician] is even more pressing today, given the vast inequality in the distribution of wealth, racial and socioeconomic inequities in health and health care, catastrophic global dangers, and astounding failures of leadership. Such challenges have stimulated additional discussion about whether physicians should “stay in their lane” — as the National Rifle Association directed them to do in 2018 — or should instead help fill the leadership void and fulfill their roles as advocates for the sick and the poor, as Bernard Lown passionately believed. . . .

We believe that social issues ought to be part of medical school curricula, not only because doctors need to know that the social determinants of health account for 80% of health outcomes, but also because students should understand that only by addressing social issues can they truly improve the health of the population. Whether physicians push for change as advocates, activists, or legislators, we contend that social involvement should be part of the job description. . . .

Current Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in 2019 about the need for physicians to be guardians of integrity: “People will accuse us of being political, but if people accuse you of being political because you’re standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, then you should do it anyway, because that is at the heart of our profession.” The misinformation and mismanagement surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic have reinforced the need for physicians to speak up regarding moral issues. The alternative approach — indifference — reflects the narrow view that being political is not what doctors do.

So, should pro-life medical students also become social activists? Should they discourage abortion? Should they work publicly to oppose protocols in which gender-dysphoric children are administered puberty blockers because of the potential physical harm such interventions cause?

What a dumb question, Wesley! The NEJM repeatedly features articles that cut adamantly against social-conservative values. For example, the journal recently published a piece calling for equity-focused discrimination in distributing health-care resources. A piece co-authored by Ezekiel Emanuel argued that all doctors be required to perform abortions if asked, and if they won’t (or won’t procure the abortionist), they should get out of medicine. Another supported the QALY system, i.e., health-care rationing based on invidious quality-of-life judgments, among many other cultural and political agendas that socially conservative students would oppose.

Indeed, as I have written, the ultimate goal of the medical intelligentsia — certainly not limited to advocacy in the NEJM — seems to be not only to drive pro-life doctors and nurses out of medicine, but concomitantly to discourage those who hold such views from entering it in the first place. At the very least, social-justice-warrior medical journals such as the NEJM view political advocacy by doctors as a one-way street.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.
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