by Gordon R. Meyerhoff, M.D.
The objective is freedom.
After the free way of life was institutionalized, subsequent generations had only to enjoy this precious heritage. While simultaneously reaping the harvest of this ancestral planting, some generations have been called on to preserve it against outside attack. Our generation is being called on to meet a threat to freedom from within, for some among us would eliminate freedom as our way of life.
For those of us who have become aware of this sacred gift of the past, it is imperative to insure its preservation for ourselves and for future generations.
To accomplish this, we must fully understand the essence of freedom.
The fundamental characteristic of freedom is that it is an inalienable quality of man. This means it cannot be given to a person, but rather a person has it. No State can grant it; no State can take it away. The only thing that can happen is that it can be exercised, or suppressed.
The Declaration of Independence stated, for all time, this inalienability of freedom for mankind, and the Bill of Rights spelled out specifically the freedoms with which nothing must interfere. So fundamental was this realization of man's nature that it called for redefining the role of government itself: to securing the blessings of liberty.
Some of our colleagues in medicine would forego this basic premise and institute procedures that impair the freedom of patients and physicians. Seemingly well-meaning people concerned with better health, they have placed a far lower value on freedom than did past generations, who gave up their health and even their very lives so that freedom could prevail.
While most past threats to freedom were obvious-as in the attack on Pearl Harbor, where we could see the enemy-this current eddy of history has placed us in a situation in which the enemy may be our seemingly benign neighbor. Thus, the tactic for preserving our freedom is not so easily seen.
It appears that large numbers of people favor the regimentation of medicine. Whatever the actual number, there are enough whose push carries enough weight that legislators are actually on the verge of attempting to nationalize medicine.
What tactic can then succeed, when a democratic society seems determine to forego freedom itself? How can a minority bring about its preservation?
Although doctors, when polled about their own convictions, may say they are for freedom, some would nevertheless forego it because they feel obliged to comply with the perceived wishes of the public. How can doctors, small in number, prevail against an apparently large and weighty public?
To help choose an effective tactic, we have the benefit of the experience of colleagues in foreign countries, where certain methods did not succeed. We have also tried certain approaches in the past decade that have been unsuccessful in abating the gradual regimentation of medicine.
We have relied on the well-earned respect and prestige that the profession of medicine has held for centuries in legislative halls. Whatever force is producing this turbulence in history, it is causing a disregard for the professional expertise and status of the physician.
We have tried "partnership with government," cooperation, coordination, and negotiation, only to find the government continuing to wield its big sticks of executive decree and legislative command to further deprive patients and doctors of their freedom.
Physicians in foreign countries, recently in Canada, waited for the final ax to fall, went on strike, and then crumbled. Their opposition seemed to stem from the heat of the moment and did not carry the sustained strength of the firm conviction regarding a free way of life.
We can now plainly see that freedom cannot lean on professional prestige; freedom cannot be placed in the hands of those who carry a big stick over us; freedom cannot be risked by being put up for negotiation; and alas, freedom cannot be entrusted even to those who are usually wise.
Our own hearts tell us exactly what must be done to preserve our freedom. We preserve it by living it ourselves. We preserve it by exercising our inalienable rights. We preserve it by continuing to practice free medicine in our offices and hospitals NO MATTER WHAT.
Seeing such heartfelt conviction in our behavior, legislators may awaken to the fact that some people in this country cannot be executive-decreed or legislated out of their inalienable birthright. Perhaps they will be steered away from their tyrannical course.
But if officials continue in the same way, and if they try to outlaw free medicine as in Canada, our prior search of own hearts will have us well fortified. Unlike Canadian physicians, who were caught ill-prepared and impotently reversed a momentary stand, we will be ready for the course that we must maintain, no matter what.
For unless we mean no matter what-unless we mean the jail and inordinate fines to which Canadian physicians were subjected-then we do not truly believe in freedom. But if we stand firm, there is no force on earth that can overcome us.
As Lincoln said, "All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a thousand years....If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
We have had the good fortune to live in an age after history opened the eyes of man to the essence of his being. We have inherited the institutions to preserve a life of freedom. Shall we give them up and become slaves?
We can choose the living death of regimentation or the vibrant life of freedom. We can be the generation that vanquished the threat from within. Suicide or freedom.
The choice is ours.