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‘Are There Circumstances Where I Would Refuse to Participate in Caring for a Patient?’ Comment to Editorial

      To the Editor:
      Several months ago I read the thought-provoking editorial, “Are There Circumstances Where I Would Refuse to Participate in Caring for a Patient?,” and wanted to comment. Time slipped by, but I recently re-read it and decided to share some relevant personal history. My career path included time spent as a military physician, and in the late 1970s I was the senior (Army) internist in West Berlin.
      Part of my responsibilities was providing medical care for the sole remaining occupant of Spandau Prison, Prisoner #7 (Rudolph Hess, second in command to Hitler). I was well aware of the horrors of the Holocaust and had made somber visits to Dachau and Auschwitz. Furthermore, my German wife (born in 1943) had survived her early years in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, an emotional trauma that eventually led to our divorce. Therefore, I had conflicting feelings during those Wednesday morning drives to Spandau during the months of US responsibility (April, August, and December). Was I going to see someone who had mundane ailments similar to my other patients, or was I asked to care for someone who was complicit in setting a policy for genocide that left millions dead? However conflicted I was, I didn't hesitate to assume responsibility for his care.
      My reasons for going into medicine and the skills acquired from my training created a strong commitment to provide medical care for those in need without regard for the personal aspects of their lives. I think this is the essence of being a physician, and the editorial gave focus to a defining event in my personal and professional life.

      Linked Article

      • Are There Circumstances Where I Would Refuse to Participate in Caring for a Patient?
        The American Journal of MedicineVol. 127Issue 4
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          Recently, for no obvious reason, I found myself wondering if there could ever occur a situation where I would refuse to participate in care of a specific individual. Could there be a circumstance so morally or ethically noxious that I would refuse to be involved in someone's health care? After a week's rumination, I decided that almost certainly I would refuse to participate in the execution of another human being, presumably as a physician and not the executioner. I suspect most physicians would feel the same way.
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