Guest post by John Hughes
I have been practicing Emergency Medicine in the United States for over 20 years. Before Covid, professional stature was attained through knowledge, rapport with patients, publications, and work ethic. The medical culture allowed and encouraged physicians to question existing science. Doctors debated medical issues using peer reviewed publications and ‘good’ research based on things like real science and statistics. Covid changed the physicians’ world. Doctors were no longer afforded the opportunity to question treatments. This was considered heresy. Because so many were dying from covid, doctors were to obediently follow the guidelines from federal medical organizations. Off the shelf treatments were criticized and, in some states, criminalized. Loss of licensure was possible for such offenses. Soon it seemed as if only expensive, proprietary medications from a few large drug companies were endorsed. Data on vaccine injuries was withheld and covid death counts were proven to be erroneous. Large scale trials on natural immunity, re-infection, off the shelf treatments, and other pertinent covid issues were not done. Guidelines for vaccines, antibodies, and other treatments were often based on weak data and then extrapolated for patient populations not included in trials. CDC guidelines frequently changed and seemed haphazard at times and false at other times. Consequently, I personally based much of my covid practice on trials done in other countries.
The covid pandemic at the foxhole level is ending. As Omicron ran its course and death rates plummeted, I became hopeful that professional restrictions would be retired and autocratic oversight of physicians would be relegated to history. Unfortunately, I became disappointed as 2022 rolled on and large professional and governing medical bodies continued to seek out and punish what they viewed as ‘misinformation’ peddling doctors. Now we have vaccines being pushed on toddlers with no data on hospitalization or mortality benefit and less than 3 deaths per month. Several of the CDC’s cited trials used to justify older children’s vaccines were funded by Pfizer, a clear conflict of interest and a fact that was not questioned by physicians or their oversight organizations. The vaccine boards refused to disclose funding and payments from pharmaceutical organizations, despite Senators like Dr Rand Paul demanding answers under oath. Medicine as we know it is at a crossroads. Physicians, not celebrities, tech employees, or elected officials, must define the future of science and their profession.
Omicron is waning. Governments across the US and around the world are rolling back restrictions and mandates just as the weary public is beginning to push back. In the medical world it seems that Neil Young, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Bill Gates, and an army of nonmedical computer technicians, media pundits, and politicians have seized too much control of medicine and physician behaviors. Public approval of federal public health entities (CDC/NIH) is low. I sense governments and medical organizations know this as they use censorship to stifle discussions that they say can undermine trust in public health agencies. If the public cannot hear bad news, they won’t know there is a problem and they won’t know they are being lied to.
I have witnessed physician behaviors running the spectrum from heroically treating covid patients before vaccines and viable treatments to arrogantly yelling at patients for being unvaccinated and then bragging about denying them care because ‘they did this to themselves.’ ABEM (American Board of Emergency Medicine), the Emergency Medicine board certification entity, has, in my opinion, done the bidding of political masters by threatening to decertify EM physicians that challenged the CDCs directives or proposed new treatments. Too many physicians in my opinion are joining the chorus of cancel culture and creating a new type of medicine with a single standard of care that has the blessing of big pharmaceutical companies and is not to be challenged. It must be safe for physicians to debate government health policy, big pharmaceutical corporation products, and possible treatments without threat of censure and job termination. Teamwork and friendly cooperation always yield the best solutions. Censorship stifles science. Look at China’s recent history. China’s first response to the Covid pandemic was to arrest and silence the Chinese doctor who notified the world of the emerging crisis, delaying worldwide preparedness.
Increasingly, the line is blurring in medical organizations between their core mission of advocating for physicians and patients and political advocacy. Left leaning views on gun control, abortion, critical race theory/equity and a host of other political issues have become so ingrained in the culture that discussions that stray from their platform are met with visceral hatred and emotional rants meant to intimidate doctors into submission. Then, they issue public statements in the mass media that claim that all of their doctors support their policy. Not all of us do, but we get resistance when we point this out to the groupthink enforcers in medicine.
Lately I have become increasingly aware of the synchronization of medical journals, mass media articles, medical organization public statements and policies, and political platforms. Doctor societies begin discussions on political topics in synch with left leaning government figures and mass media’s preferred narratives. The words ‘equity’ and ‘climate change’ appear in organizational web pages, policy statements, and journals and are applied to everything from asthma to covid to heart failure. Recently, the American College of Emergency Physicians released anti-gun and pro-abortion policy statements. Complicit providers claim to base their arguments on ‘the science’ and then have no data to explain what the science is and why they view abortion as a medical condition and not as an ethical/moral/legal/political decision.
I have begun to wade into physician professional discussions in journals and online forums and have been astonished by how many defend the left leaning groupthink and steadfastly defend the direction of science with emotional rants largely devoid of evidence or reasoning. Gun control and drug overdose deaths were easy initial topics to confront leftist providers on. They rely on intimidation and enforcement of the culture but their voices become quiet when their reasoning is defeated by things like statistics and real science. I even had seasoned doctors using media fact checking articles to make scientific arguments. When they sense defeat, their discussions moderators then start to block physicians who oppose the narrative or censure authors of heretical publications.
There are a not insignificant number of physicians who oppose the leftist dogma but many are afraid to speak up due to fears of reprisals or simply because they feel it won’t matter to swim against such a strong current. For daring to question partisan medical policy in what should be neutral medical organizations, I have had fellow health care ‘professionals’ call me an election denier and Trump supporter (even though I never once spoke politics or gave my party affiliation), deny partisanship, and even ask me to leave the organization. Providers who stand for values, personal responsibility, and freedom of speech are labeled as right wing doctors.
I fear the current course is going to have 2 detrimental consequences. 1. Scientific advancements will slow or grind to a halt as big drug companies and government regulations dictate medical practice for major medical issues (similar to the Purdue opiate crisis origins). Profits over scientific merit. 2. Medicine will be increasingly used by politicians to justify their irrational, autocratic policies as rights get steamrolled in the name of science and saving humanity. Medicine cannot be a tool used to control society. I firmly believe in both the Hippocratic Oath and the Nuremburg Code. As physicians, we must take back the mantle of medical professionalism and ‘real science’ and restore collegial and inclusive discussions on risks/benefits for both individual patients and society, candid assessments of vaccines and medications, and empathy for all patients that we treat.
After returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I find an America in the midst of a Civil War that has already been raging for years under my nose. Instead of muskets and cannons, the preferred weapon of the enemy is censorship under the guise of controlling ‘hate speech’ and ‘misinformation.’ Just as in other professions, this will be a nasty affair; friendships will be tested and possibly destroyed. Too many of my friendships are already being tested over medical partisanship. Just like in society at large, cancel culture and left leaning principles are built on a foundation of totalitarianism and and a goal to decrease individual liberties. While I cannot fight everywhere, I, like other health care providers, must take up the fight in our lane and wrestle back science and truth in medicine from the Left before it is leveraged to destroy freedom and health as we know it. This fight is just beginning.
USMA Class of 1996 (#1 graduate)
3rd Generation West Pointer
4 combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan