My mother helped me practise for my medical school interview. I found sheets of questions, and she would act as the interviewer. One of these questions follows:
Two weeks ago, your mother was murdered. You saw the murderer, and managed to wound him before he escaped.
Now, two weeks later, you are working in the emergency department. The paramedics bring in a man who you recognise as your mother’s murderer. The wounds you gave him are now infected, and, without immediate medical treatment, he will die.
You are the only doctor available in the hospital right now.
Do you treat the patient? You have 10 seconds to make your decision.
My response was intelligent. “…uh…uh…uh, no…?”
My mother, however, was more lucid. No, not lucid — she was angry. She threw the paper on the table, and looked at me.
“You have to,” she said, flatly. “Why would you say no?”
“…I’m telling the truth…?” My mother picked on many things: body language, posture, stuttering. But never the truth.
“You don’t have a choice!” my mother said. “If you are a doctor, you have to treat the patient!”
“But he’s a…”
“No buts! If you are a doctor, you have to treat your patient.” My mother leant closer to me, and her voice softed. “You are a doctor, not God. God has given you the gift of healing. It’s a wonderful, powerful gift. But it’s not up to you who you treat. You can’t decide who lives and who dies. Only God can pass judgement like that. You are a doctor. You’re not God. Don’t play God.”
I looked down. She was right, of course, but that didn’t make it any easier.
“If you are a doctor,” my mother continued, “you leave your opinion at the door. Leave your beliefs and personality at the door. Everyone who walks through that door is a person, and must be treated the same way. You don’t have a choice. There is no choice.”
I wanted to look up, but I couldn’t. I wanted to cry. It was strange, how something so blatantly obvious made me want to cry!
“Promise me,” my mother said, her voice hoarse. “Promise me right now that you will treat everyone the same. Don’t judge. You can’t judge, if you are a doctor. Don’t play God.”
“…I promise…” I muttered.
We went on with the questions, but the thought still remained. I’d made a promise which I’d carry with me until the end of my life. It isn’t an easy one to live by, but, as my mother said, we don’t have a choice.
Doctors aren’t gods. So we can’t pretend to be.