Physicians and Nurses Must Not Discriminate in Caring for Patients, Part I

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Physicians and Nurses as Collaborators in the Practice of Medicine

First Reason: A Common God-Creator

Before human beings become members of any religion, they come into the world as persons. Theologically speaking, all human beings are sacred persons, because they are made in “the image of God.” Ultimately, that is why physicians and nurses should care for other human beings, because they persons, and persons matter more than anything in all creation.

Thus, God created only one race, one humanity. In that sense, all human beings, regardless of their differences, are brothers and sisters, because they belong to the same human family. Because there is one human family, genocide is a moral abomination. For the same reason, racism, which is the denial of another human being’s humanity, is morally repugnant. For at the heart of all forms of genocide and racism is the belief that different groups of human beings are not fully human.

Second Reason: A Common Humanity

Another reason physicians and nurses, without discrimination, care for all patients, is that they are members of the human family. For example, the Declaration of Geneva or Geneva Code refers to the medical profession and may apply, in several respects, to nurses, particularly the section which says,

“I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient.”

What, then, in the natural (not spiritual) order of things unites human beings more than anything else? It is their common humanity! That is also why not only physicians and nurses, but all people must respect each other as human beings, even with all their religious differences.

Third Reason: A Moral Obligation as Physicians and Nurses

Practically speaking, physicians and nurses, as morally repugnant or distasteful as it may be to them, must, for example, care for serial killers, rapists and pedophiles. For example, on different occasions in the Nazi concentration camps, Viktor Frankl, a medical doctor, had to care for Nazi soldiers. But he did it because they were human beings, not because he liked them. Years later, he wrote,

“‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ ‘He is a reed,’ said Pascal, ‘but a reed which thinks!’ And it is in this thinking, this consciousness, this responsibility that constitute the dignity of man, the dignity of each individual human being. And it is always to be ascribed to the individual person whether he preserves this dignity or tarnishes it.”

Caring for racists and murderers in no way is an endorsement of their behavior. Rather, it is ascribing to such patients the human dignity of being persons. At the essence of health care, then, is the non-discriminatory discharge of the duty of physicians and nurses to care for their patients, treating them as human being beings, persons.

Endnote

Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 110-111.

Physicians and Nurses Must Not Discriminate in Caring for Patients, Part II

Good-Samaritan
Artistic Image of the Parable of the Good Samaritan

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the example of the Samaritan is still another reason for not discriminating against human beings who need medical treatment. In the parable, a man — probably of Jewish descent — traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, is robbed, beaten, wounded and left-for-dead (cf. Luke 10:30).

While the priest and Levite pass by the wounded man, a Samaritan comes to the aid of the man. The Samaritan, though, is not considered a member of God’s chosen people. Rather, he is regarded as an outcast, a half-breed (half Jewish and Assyrian), by the Jewish people. That is why Scripture says, “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). They dislike each other.

Nevertheless, the Samaritan, who has no special reason for helping a Jew and almost every racial reason for despising him, is moved by compassion at the suffering of another human being and cares for him. The irony of the parable is that the Samaritan meets the needs of the wounded Jew, while the priest and Levite, who have the “true faith,” do not.

The Samaritan is a non-discriminatory example for all health care workers, such as doctors, nurses and the entire staff of a health care facility, because he, a stranger to the wounded man, takes care of him. For the Samaritan, in a moment of urgent need, it does not matter what the wounded man’s beliefs are, such as his creeds; nor does it matter that the man’s faith-community was different from the Samaritan’s, such as differences in religion; nor do ethnic differences, such as the differences between Jews and Samaritans, matter. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,

“If the Samaritan had considered the wounded man as a Jew first, he would not have stopped [to help him], for the Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings. He saw him as a human being first, who was a Jew only by accident….”1

In other words, matters of race and religion are secondary to a person’s humanity.

Today, unfortunately, for not a few people, differences in race and religion matter more than a person’s humanity. So, unlike the Samaritan, such people may lose sight of the fact that different humans are still human beings, persons. King writes,

“[W]e see people as entities or merely as things. Too seldom do we see people in their true humanness. A spiritual myopia limits our vision to external accidents. We see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites. We fail to think of them as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image.”2

From the Samaritan’s example, health care workers can learn that a human being — someone who is made in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) — must be cared for, regardless of his or her race, religion or any other political or social matter. Issues of race, religion, politics and economics, are, undeniably, important; but in urgent situations, such issues are always secondary to meeting the needs of a human being.

Endnotes

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2010), pp. 24-25.
  2. Ibid., p. 24.