We still have shreds of civility left. I love it when people walk up to those in uniform and say, “Thank you for your service.” It is a recognition of their courage and sacrifice. And now we should add gratitude for those in the medical profession.
Many of them are risking their lives on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus. They are living up to the ethical standards of their public health calling. The precise phrase “First do no harm” is not really in the original Hippocratic oath. In fact, Hippocrates probably didn’t even write it back in 3 to 5 B.C., when he was a physician. But whoever did jot it down or chisel it established a grand tradition of medicine: “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgement.”
They are doing so by the thousands, even though our politicians and other leaders aren’t equipping them with the protective gear necessary to shield them from this invisible but vicious attacker. To those inept klutzes, the ones making our crisis worse, we should walk up to them and say, “Thank you for your DISservice.”
Nevertheless, our doctors, nurses, technicians and ambulance drivers are selflessly trying to restore health to the afflicted. Some of these men and women are forced to improvise when they don’t have the PPE (personal protection equipment) gowns and masks they need. In some cases they have resorted to garbage bags, in the hope that some corrupt supplier won’t gouge them by raising the price of garbage bags.
“Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.” That’s also in the Hippocratic oath, which Donald Trump did not take because he is not a physician. But he is out there as president advocating the use of pharmaceuticals that, until they are proven safe and effective, are the equivalent of poison.
Perhaps at his swearing-in he took the “Hypocritic oath.”
Although he claims to care about public safety, he is ignoring the physicians who are combatting this scourge, threatening to prematurely end social distancing, which experts say is the only hope to avoid being struck down as individuals and as a country.
Happily, this nation is governed by a constitution that allows state and local authorities to make such decisions, painful that they are.
Some of them are acting responsibly and shutting down whatever commerce is not essential, and closing schools for the real duration of this crisis. Others, however, are heeding the Trumpian siren call to irresponsibility, and are willingly putting their population in danger.
They would be well advised to recall the Hippocratic oath promise that “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm.” Unintentional harm is just as bad, particularly when it’s driven by political opportunism. It’s still harm. The time would be better spent setting up the protective armor our health care first responders need to treat and give comfort to the human casualties of this biological war.
We should say, “Thank you for your service” to every medical protector we encounter. But we can really show our appreciation by insisting that every one of their leaders, up to and including the president, equip them with the tools they need to wage this war.
Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.