Culture & Ethics
Dr. Michael Egnor: “Operating on Healthy Bodies Defies Surgical Ethics”
Our colleague Michael Egnor writes about medical ethics not from a position of “personal opinion” but that of long professional experience. He has a powerful piece at The Federalist:
As a pediatric neurosurgeon, I have followed the proliferation of surgical procedures for so-called “gender affirmation” with increasing dismay. That public schools now advocate such treatments to young children is particularly alarming. I say this based not on personal opinion but on 35 years of experience as a surgeon and instructor of surgeons.
I teach at a medical school and I am a residency director for neurosurgery in my institution. This means I am in charge of training young neurosurgeons. I emphasize to medical students and resident neurosurgeons that the first and most fundamental responsibility a surgeon has to his patients is to make an appropriate initial decision as to whether to operate and if surgery is in the patient’s best interest.
A well-performed operation is still malpractice (or even assault) if it is not done for valid medical reasons. Operating for marginal (or less) reasons is more common than most of the public realizes — after all, surgeons are paid (quite well) to operate, and they rightly take pride in operating with skill. To be paid handsomely for what you love to do is a privilege, a joy, and a very dangerous temptation. Not every patient who consults a surgeon really needs surgery — often, non-surgical treatment is more effective and less risky.
Thus, when I quiz my students and residents about treatment options for various conditions, I always insist that they begin with a discussion of non-surgical treatments. Honest and conscientious surgeons only do surgery when less invasive options are inadequate and there are clear, justified reasons for surgery. The patient’s health, not the surgeon’s ego, is paramount. This is basic surgical ethics.
Read the rest here. I appreciate the mature and sober perspective on a question that often seem to arouse emotions that cloud judgement.