Could personal biases lead a physician to neglect — or intentionally harm — some patients? Do some patients get better — or drastically worse — treatment than others because of their physician’s private politics or beliefs?
That’s a possibility that has been brought sharply into focus by a recent incident in Ohio involving statements made by a medical professional while she was still a student.
Physicians are supposed to adhere to the Hippocratic Oath which states (among other things), “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings.” One young physician, however, seems to think that some of her fellow human beings are an exception to the rule. She threatened to discriminate against and promised to purposefully harm people of Jewish descent by giving them the wrong medication.
A watchdog agency that aims to expose antisemitism exposed several dozen tweets written by the young doctor — a student at the time — between 2011 and 2013. In them, she called Jewish people “dogs” and called herself unsympathetic toward the Holocaust. She even compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
The young doctor has since apologized for her comments. As a woman of Palestinian descent, she claims she was influenced heavily by the trauma she saw in Palestine when she went there to visit during her summers as a teen. She stated that, at the time, she had “difficulty constructively expressing” her feelings about what was happening but has since learned “tolerance and humanity.” It’s interesting to note, however, that she also claimed that she made her comments “not realizing the harm and offense these words would cause.”
That seems hard to believe. Shortly after her comments came to light, the Cleveland Clinic terminated her residency. There’s also no apparent evidence (yet) that she ever followed through on her threats.
What’s important to understand is that doctors do sometimes act on their personal biases. You could be given less than standard medical care simply because a doctor doesn’t like your religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender expression or something else. As a patient — or the family member of a patient — it’s important to be alert to potential biases from medical professionals. If you suspect a problem, take notes and take action. Request a new physician immediately and don’t take, “No,” for an answer from the hospital’s administration.