Tuesday, April 23, 2024
HomeCOVID-19Why medics have not pushed back on lockdowns and vaccines

Why medics have not pushed back on lockdowns and vaccines


THE response by the authorities around the world, apparently in lockstep, to the COVID-19 pandemic has overseen the violation of research and medical ethics on an unprecedented scale, as Dr Ahmad Malik set out so cogently in TCW here. The puzzle is why there was so little pushback over lockdowns, masks or vaccine mandates from health professionals traditionally revered by society as healers and carers.

One would have expected that with the safeguards which have evolved since the end of the Second World War patients would have better protection against medical harm. However, modernity has brought many challenges to the practice of medicine. Firstly, the professional autonomy of healthcare professionals including doctors has come under attack from many quarters. Few healthcare professionals are truly autonomous clinicians, and there are various reasons for this. The case of Harold Shipman, the GP thought to be responsible for more than 200 deaths, shows what can happen when doctors turn bad. So today we have a plethora of regulations that healthcare professionals are answerable to. At the same time clinical practice has become increasingly protocol-driven to ensure that clinicians are using the latest evidence base. But this can rob clinicians of their ability to be creative, or to act intuitively, and interferes with professional reflection.

Healthcare professionals are usually employed by large organisations often state-run but also private. This can create a potential conflict between the medical ethics of the practitioner and the demands of their employers. This in turn can lead to moral distress and burnout, and is a contributing factor to retention problems in healthcare.

Healthcare professionals are just as vulnerable to authoritarianism as anyone else, perhaps more so because of the many years spent being socialised into hierarchical institutions. Stanley Milgram’s book on Obedience to Authority published in 1974 demonstrated how most ordinary people were willing to carry out inhuman acts on others, up to and including delivering a fatal electric shock, if ordered to do so by a person in authority. Milgram believed that those who succumbed to these impulses were not necessarily bad people – many showed distress at the thought of harming others – but they had given authority figures the right to ‘prescribe behaviour’. The experiment was partially replicated in 2009 by Jerry M Berger, who found similar response rates amongst participants

Over the past three years, I have observed that healthcare professionals are usually drawn from socioeconomic backgrounds which are readily trusting of authority. Many of those I have spoken to have a high degree of trust in government, health authorities and the mass media, and challenging the dominant narrative means deconstructing their worldview. Instead, they have permitted government to prescribe their behaviour despite the obvious conflicts with their ethical codes. When institutions have been captured by corporate interests and healthcare professionals are not alert to this, grave violations can occur. 

The consequences for those healthcare professionals and scientists who did raise legitimate questions about the associated harms of lockdown, the evidence base behind masks, and the safety or efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines was both swift and brutal. Thousands of carers in the UK did not comply with the vaccine mandates and were sacked, but have yet to be compensated or reinstated. Thousands of healthcare professionals successfully protested against mandatory vaccination as part of a campaign coordinated by the NHS100k campaign group. If this movement had not been successful, mandatory vaccination would have been rolled out across the rest of the population. Many healthcare professionals lost their jobs around the world or were threatened with deregistration because they questioned or resisted the government narrative while social media platforms sought to shadow ban and deplatform dissenters. 

Perhaps we should move away from exploring the role of individual healthcare professionals in the Covid-19 narrative and place the blame where it really lies. Stjepan Gabriel Mestrovic’s 2007 book The Trials of Abu Ghraib was informed by his experiences as an expert witness for the defence of US soldiers on trial for abusing prisoners at a US military-run prison in Iraq. It was his belief that ‘immoral authority’ was responsible for creating the conditions whereby institutional abuse and human rights violations could emerge, especially in systems where incompetence, ambiguity, reduced social integration and poor working conditions were a feature. Certainly, our political class demonstrates the former while working conditions in the NHS continue to deteriorate. 

In conclusion, doctors aren’t gods and nurses aren’t angels. They are ordinary people who were drawn to their profession to care for others and signed up to their professional codes of ethics in good faith. Many have been caught out by their trust in institutions and socialised obedience, even as their core values and commitment to ethical codes is corrupted by corporate interests and the immoral authority that now pervades our political class.

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Dr Rowena Slope
Dr Rowena Slope
Dr Rowena Slope PG Dip RGN MRES PhD is a senior lecturer in adult nursing. Her website is here, Dr Rowena Slope and her substack is here.

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