The Hypocritical Oath
It seems that smoking really can kill you;
especially in England where surgery is being refused to smokers.

Charles C. Schrager

We all have heard of the Hippocratic oath. It is the promise all doctors take. And while it has changed since Hippocrates first wrote it down, the gist remains the same. These are some key parts of that oath: “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug…I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know…Above all, I must not play at God…I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being.”

These are good rules; very straightforward, very little room for interpretation, and nowhere in there does it say “I will refuse treatment to patients on the basis of their smoking habits,” yet in England, that is exactly what is happening.

On the heels of research that reveals it takes smokers longer to recover from operations than it does non-smokers, the Department of Health Services has ordered that surgery, including non-life-threatening heart surgery (find me surgery on a heart that can’t be considered life threatening and I’ll find you a doctor who needs to go back to medical school) be withheld unless smokers quit smoking four weeks prior to the surgery. How will doctors know if you really quit smoking? Well simple enough, they will draw blood to check. So much for respecting a patient’s privacy. And if smokers refuse to quit, they will still eventually be operated on, they will just have to wait behind non-smokers. So much for treating the patients as people.

The rational behind this decision is that since smokers take longer to recover from surgery they are clogging up beds and resources and costing more money to care for than nonsmokers. Well so much for showing warmth and sympathy.

You know what? I’ve changed my mind. This is a good policy. I say they should expand it. You know who takes a long time to recover from surgery? Old people, that’s who, and technically speaking they are more likely to die sooner than young people, why waste time and resources on them? I say no more surgeries for anyone 65 or over. Bum hip you want to get looked at? Take some Tylenol and walk it off. That colon cancer got you down? You’ll be fine, just rub some dirt on it and get back in the game.

Are they completely insane? Under this policy convicted felons are entitled to better medical care than smokers. You want to get your achy knee scoped, go stab your neighbor, just whatever you do, don’t light up after.

While Health Services spokespeople claim that this policy is being put in place to “see if the outcomes [of operations] can be improved,” patients’ rights group cite this as being nothing more than Health Services trying to save money. Here’s my suggestion, take some of the billions that the government collects in tobacco taxes and put it towards health services and then you won’t have to worry about it. Smokers will end up paying their own freight.

And here in America you were wondering what the argument against nationalized health care was.

- C.C.S.

SMOKE - Summer, 2007

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