What Price --- Freedom?

Author: 
Lawrence R. Huntoon, MD, PhD
Article Type: 
President's Page
Issue: 
May/June 2000
Volume Number: 
5
Issue Number: 
3

Earlier this year, INS agents discovered 75 Chinese immigrants cramped inside cargo containers stacked among a thousand other containers on ships docked in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Seattle. These people endured a two to three week trip in a box the size of a tractor-trailer, with a tarp on top with holes punched in it so they could breathe. The air was thick with the stench of overflowing barrels of waste that served as toilets during this horrible ordeal. They survived on only crackers and water, in the dark and the stink, and were at great risk should anything happen at sea. And, they paid as much as $60,000 each for the "privilege" of travelling in this dark dung-filled container! Moreover, since none of them had the $60,000, they essentially agreed to serve as indentured servants, working at low paying jobs for years to pay off the debt. All for one reason. The prospect of someday being free.

Many people today take living in a free country for granted. We physicians are so busy with schedules to keep, patients to see, bills to pay, family duties and just keeping up with the rat race that we sometimes fail to appreciate how precious that thing is that we call freedom.

Everything, however, has its price. And, although the price for freedom in our country has been high, it was a price paid in the distant past, a price often forgotten. The fact is the freedom we enjoy today was bought and paid for with the lives of brave men and women who fought and died for it. How sad it is our freedom is now being sold little by little and piece by piece. How much for a piece of your freedom? Well, the answer goes something like this: "I'm too busy to bother with all that medical politics stuff --- I'll leave that to someone else; Let's be practical; I have to live in the real world; I have kids in college, I have to participate in those things (managed care, Medicare, etc.)... I have a mortgage to pay, car payments to make, a loan to pay off; My group signed up for it, I'm just an employee; I have to go along to get along; If I don't participate in it, others will and I'll be out of business; I'm just trying to be a "good guy" and accept whatever insurance my patients have --- they won't be able to pay my fee unless I participate and take their (HMO, Medicare, etc., etc.)." Physicians in this country are selling themselves piece by piece into slavery.

"A physician to sit in the front of the bus" (1) is a commendable start to dealing with the HCFA/Medicare bureaucracy, but in view of the escalation of the criminalization and bureaucratization of medicine, what we really need is someone to commandeer the bus and kick the physician-abusing bureaucrats off of it! How to do it? "Fight Back!" (2) Resist in any and every way you can. Educate others --- talk to your colleagues and patients; write op-ed pieces in your local newspaper; stuff doctors' mailboxes with the AAPS News and the Medical Sentinel; give talks to local groups. Recruit more AAPS medical warriors. Write to your Congressman and tell him/her what the bureaucracy and criminalization is doing to the practice of medicine in this country. Donate to the AAPS and to the American Health Legal Foundation (so that we will have the ammunition we need to hit them where it hurts). If you participate in Medicare, resolve this year to become a non-participating physician. Opt out of Medicare if you can. Drop some of those HMO contracts and show a little spine; the sky isn't going to fall --- you'll survive. Show them that there are still physicians out there with integrity who are willing to take a little short-term loss to achieve a long-term gain for medicine and for our patients. Think about it. There is something, however big or small, that each and every one of you can do.

Integrity and freedom are things we must not sell off piece by piece. They are far too precious. If you truly care about freedom in medicine, lead by example. As Founding Father and American patriot Samuel Adams (1722-1803) proclaimed: "...it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds..."

References

1. Weaver JP. A physician to sit in the front of the bus. Medical Sentinel 1999;4(6):207.
2. Huntoon LR. Fight back. Medical Sentinel 2000;5(2):42-43.

 

Lawrence R. Huntoon, MD, PhD is president of AAPS and a practicing neurologist in Jamestown, New York.

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2000;5(3);87. Copyright©2000 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)

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