In the United States, we are not taught ethics as children or adults. Unless our parents happened to be great teachers of these subjects, no one teaches us the lessons of honesty, integrity, or how to practice compassion. And the result of this lack of ethics education is a nation that pursues capitalism in all its forms without applying appropriate ethics.
This is exactly how we ended up creating companies like Merck, which sells drugs like Vioxx. This is how we created Enron, a company that deceived an entire country and took advantage of people in order to generate profits for itself. This is how we ended up with the WorldCom fiasco, the Disney meltdown, and the horrifying modern day FDA. It is a lack of ethics that has created many of the problems in this country. Not a lack of capitalism or a lack of ingenuity or a lack of technical ability, but an inability of people to demonstrate even the fundamentals of ethical behavior.
I have a theory on why medical schools, in particular, don't want to teach ethics. It's because ethics aren't black and white. There's no direct, easy answer when you start asking ethical questions. What medical schools want is one answer for one symptom. They want a clear-cut solution for every problem. It must be compartmentalized or framed in a reductionistic mindset in order to appeal to medical schools.
Yet ethics education is exactly what conventional medicine needs most, because so much of what's going on in organized medicine today is practiced without ethics, without compassion, and without any real recognition of the very humanity of the patients the industry is supposed to be serving. Too often in modern medicine, general practitioners, oncologists and surgeons look at patients as just another paying customer... another person to run through the system. And that's how a lot of hospitals and drug companies look at it, too. It's certainly how Medicare and Medicaid programs view patients. The humanity gets lost in the equation.
I agree that, as a health practitioner, it can be challenging to offer more individualized, compassionate services to patients, because if you get too close, it's easy to unintentionally take on some of the patients' stresses and sicknesses. But there is a balance that can be achieved, and I think this balance is being achieved right now by those in naturopathic medicine and the healing arts like therapeutic touch. Yet this balance is not at all achieved by conventional medicine, because ethics and compassionate are simply not part of the curriculum.
I ask, how can a medical system that has no recognition of the humanity of patients expect to find success treating those patients? It can't. And that's why modern (western) medicine has failed. Under its watch, we have seen the proliferation of the most diseased population ever observed in the history of civilization. All that medical technology, you see, is worthless if you don't have ethics guiding you in its use.
Now this isn't to say, by the way, that all doctors are unethical. Most doctors that I have met personally, even if they are followers of conventional medicine, are themselves ethical people. But they've arrived at that through personal experience, not through any formal education. We have a situation in this country where people may stumble across the subject of ethics on their own, or they may receive an education from non-traditional sources such as family members or participation in organized religion, but they sure don't get ethics from med schools.
At the same time that we have people who stumble across ethics and end up incorporating a philosophy of ethics into their lives, we also have another group of people who never embrace ethics and who basically run around society as business leaders, medical leaders, CEOs of drug companies, and political leaders. It seems like many of these people lack any degree of ethics that most other people would consider to be normal.
For example, if you were the CEO of a drug company selling a prescription drug, and you found out that your drug tripled or quadrupled the risk of heart attacks in people who took it, would you have the ethics and the courage to say, "Hey, maybe we should take this drug off the market?" That's not what happens in the pharmaceutical industry. Rather than taking the drug off the market and protecting patients, companies routinely seek to hide the negative studies, distort the truth, cover up the truth and keep selling the drug to generate profits. And this isn't an exception I'm talking about here: it's the rule in the drug industry! That's how things are actually done in the pharmaceutical world today. It's all about making more money no matter what happens to the patient. If you don't believe me, just look at what's been happening with the COX-2 inhibitors debate. This class of drugs, which has killed tens of thousands of Americans, and for which the FDA even admits a greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, has been selected by the FDA to remain on the market!
We are in a situation now where we have literally 25% of the Gross Domestic Product being spent on health care. That's a tremendous amount of money that's being generated through systems of marketing, advertising, propaganda and deception that are highly unethical. A recent study says that nearly half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are due to medical bills. And that's true, but I think that the big bankruptcy in this country is the ethical bankruptcy. We are morally and ethically bankrupt as a nation. The results of that bankruptcy include skyrocketing rates of chronic disease, increased stress in daily life, reduced quality of life, growing social problems, the mass diagnosis of mental and behavioral disorders, a failing health care system, deep bankruptcy at the federal government level, and much more.
I find it astonishing that even in our public schools, children can go through 12 years of so-called "education" and not receive a single class on ethics. Unless they happen to have gifted teachers, they're never told about honesty or the power of doing good deeds for others. They're never taught to value another human life. This is simply not part of the official curriculum. In fact, most of the messages children receive teach them the opposite of ethics. Messages from the media, video games, television programs, and movies are largely about violence, trauma and killing other people in order to accomplish your goals. That's what you see in the action shows and a lot of Hollywood movies where it's all about taking out your enemy rather than finding ways to cooperate. The media engenders conflict, not compassion.
I suggest we initiate a fundamental change in our medical schools and public schools. Perhaps we should stop trying to be such virtuoso technicians and, instead, learn to apply ethics to these technical skills. Because if you're not making the right decision from a moral, ethical viewpoint, then what good is all the technology in the world?
With sufficient technology, for example, you can grow organs for human transplants inside the bodies of living, breathing mammals (like pigs). We have the technology to do that right now. But is it ethical to grant life to mammals so that we can kill them, retrieve their organs, and put those organs into the bodies of human beings who have abused their bodies to the point where their own organs have failed? Is that an ethical application of technology?
I'm not attempting to answer that complex question here, but I am saying that we need to be asking these questions. And until we do so, we're going to find ourselves deeper in bankruptcy at every level imaginable: financially, socially and ethically.