“With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.”
– The original Hippocratic Oath – third paragraph.
Teddy Papadopoulos and I met during Orientation Week at the University of Chicago. He was one of the few students among us who was a native Chicagoan. A lifelong resident of the university’s Hyde Park community, he was brilliant and was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in physics. In any event, we met over what passed for a typical dormitory dinner and both of us had equally unkind comments about the cafeteria’s culinary output. Naturally, we hit it off and became very good friends – a relationship that exists still today.
Nikos Papadopoulos, Teddy’s father, was an extremely congenial man who was one of the partners in Café Hellas, one of the many restaurants on Halsted Street that comprised Chicago’s Greek Town neighborhood. He could be seen there six days and nights a week greeting and seating the busy restaurant’s customers, treating regulars and newcomers with the same obvious joy that they had decided to patronize his establishment.
Nikos was an immigrant from Thessalonika who came to the United States when he was eight years old. He met his wife Diana here. She was the daughter of a green grocer, one of seven children, six girls and one boy. They married when he was thirty and she was twenty-six. Besides Teddy, they had two other boys. Teddy, by the way, was named for Theodore Roosevelt. Nikos admired the former president as a person who said what he meant and meant what he said..
Diana was typical of many women in Chicago’s Greek community. She was, to use an out of date phrase, a homemaker whose enjoyment came from keeping the house neat as a pin and making dinner for her children and on Sunday for her husband when he wasn’t at the restaurant. She made sure that the kids all looked their best for the lengthy Sunday services at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral which they attended. She was a warm and very loving person who enjoyed nothing more than giving everyone a hug and if they were short enough like her, a kiss on the cheek. Although it was never official, I thought of her as a foster mother.
During my third year in school, Diana was hospitalized. She was in her late forties. She was, I think more concerned about being away from her family than she was for her own condition. But she tried to wear a happy face and joked about getting out of the hospital so that she could cook her family dinner. “By now I’m sure the house is not fit for pigs to live in,” she said on one of my visits. That was the visit when she got the news.
Teddy and I were in her room when a specialist whom she had not seen before came in. He had the results of the tests and the lab work that had been conducted over the previous ten days – and had an analysis. His name was Dr. M., an oncologist.
Without so much as a, “Hi, how are you,” he introduced himself. Perhaps you’ve heard of bedside manner. Well, Dr. M. had obviously cut that class.
“I have reviewed your tests and your lab work and I need to tell you that you have cancer of the pancreas. It’s inoperable and there’s no treatment. Based on the progression of the cancer I estimate that you have at most four to five months to live. I’m sorry.”
And he turned on his heel and left the room.
Diana burst into tears and Teddy rushed to his mother’s bed, sat down and put his arms around her. I was so shocked, my mouth wide open at the ruthless way in which this physician had delivered his news that I didn’t know what to do. But in a few second my shock turned into serious anger. I have only been really angry three times in my life – and this was one of them. I rushed from the room to find the doctor, half intent on slugging him.
When I caught up with him I grabbed his arm and said, “Excuse me.” By now my blood pressure was returning to only twice its normal range. “I can’t believe that you as a trained medical practitioner who is supposed to try to help people could have told that poor woman her prognosis in such a cold and uncaring manner. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
He replied, “Why? She’s a dead woman. If I waste my time on her I might be putting someone at risk whom I could actually help.” And he walked off.
I remember standing there for a few minutes, totally numb, completely shocked and feeling the tears run down both my cheeks. And then I returned to Diana’s room.
Well, Dr. M. was fairly correct. But Diana lived seven months from that date and the outpouring of love and grief from her friends and members of the closely knit Greek community was amazing. There were well over four hundred people who attended her funeral that September.
“Moreover, I will give no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.”
– The original Hippocratic Oath – fourth paragraph.
The original Oath has been changed many times. Obviously, were the above portion of it still in effect there would be no abortions performed by any physicians who swore to it nor would we have things such as the “morning after” pill.
This week a pro life group released an undercover video in which Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Deborah Nucatolo discusses in a very off handed, dismissive and clinical manner the method of performing abortions so as to “extract the most tissue which can then be furnished for research.” The link to the video and a CNN piece on what has become a very controversial issue can be found below.
One of the counter attacks by those who are Pro Abortion is that the video was edited. So is every movie that is released by Hollywood and every news story that appears in print. Many years ago I had two separate three hour conversations with a Wall Street Journal staff writer and when the piece on which she was working, appeared in the paper she had reduced our conversation to two lines. Editing is not the issue. Nor is the motivation of the group that produced it – so long as the facts presented are actually the facts.
What really is the issue, something about which people who are both Pro Abortion and Pro Life should be concerned, is the level of ethics – both in our society generally and by extension among our medical practitioners. In a self-centered, self-absorbed society that is a serious question.
Presumably, most of us would have no question about returning a guilty verdict in the case of a mother who suffocated her three year old Downs Syndrome child because she couldn’t handle the stress of dealing with a youngster with this disability. So why then would we applaud the woman for aborting that child as a fetus if it were clear the child would be born with this genetic defect? Or for that matter, a child who would be born with Cystic Fibrosis? Or for that matter, a child who was a female when the parents wanted a boy? Or a child whose hair color would be red when they wanted a blond?
Today, whatever your philosophy, this is a choice that is purportedly left to the parent. But those who press most strongly for further government entrenchment in our lives may not fully perceive where their efforts, if successful, may lead.
Because the truth is that government might one day decide that the right to reproduce is not a right but a privilege and it is they, (in the interest of the greater good) who should determine to whom that privilege should be granted and to whom it should be denied.
After all, the right to have children is not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, that venerable document that receives as little attention from those on the left as some members of the medical community pay to the original Hippocratic Oath.