I was once a small boy, but I no longer call myself that.
For years I’ve been mulling over what to do about the medical profession. Or at least the high ranks of the medical profession. People like Sally Davies, the current Chief Medical Officer for England. Or Sir Liam Donaldson, her predecessor in the post. Or Sir George Godber, another predecessor. Or Margaret Chan, until recently Director-General of the World Health Organization. Or the infamous Sir Richard Doll. Or indeed my only personal bête noire, Dr W.
They’re all antismoking busybodies, of course. And health obsessives.
But above all, they’re people who feel perfectly entitled to tell other people how to live their lives, and dictate what they can and can’t eat, drink, smoke, or sit on. And not only do they think that everyone should be informed of their prescriptions, but that these prescriptions should be enshrined in law.
As I see it, they have made a religion of health. And they are trying to make their religion as compulsory for everybody as it was once compulsory for everyone to attend church. They have become the bishops and cardinals of a new church. They issue a stream of directives indistinguishable from papal bulls.
It is of course not very surprising if doctors should make an idol of health. For health is the central concern of the medical profession, much like justice is the central concern of the practice of law, or boats the central concern of boatbuilders.
But just because they think that health is the only thing that really matters, why should the rest of us be obliged to do so too. What about justice? And what about boats?
I can’t help but think that these medics have strayed outside the borders of their profession. Their interest should really be restricted to the restoration of health to those who have become sick or injured. They should treat the sick, not the healthy. Their interest in the sick should end as soon as they have restored them to health, and discharged them from their hospitals. But these days a new species of busybody doctor will pursue their patients out of the hospitals, and follow them into their homes, and there issue instructions to them to desist from drinking beer and smoking tobacco and eating meat and sitting around on sofas.
I think that when doctors become legislators, they have ceased to be doctors. They have ceased to practise medicine. They have ceased to care for the sick. They have left their profession, and embarked on another.
If a soldier or sailor leaves the military, should he be entitled to continue to call himself colonel or major or general or admiral? If a policeman leaves the police, should he be entitled to continue to call himself constable or superintendent or detective-inspector? If a mayor steps down from his office, or a member of parliament vacates his seat, should the one be entitled to carry on calling himself mayor, and the other one an MP? If I marry a woman, and then divorce her, am I perfectly entitled to carry on calling myself her husband even after we have become divorced?
Surely when you leave the military you become an ex-serviceman? And when you divorce you become an ex-husband or an ex-wife? Isn’t anything else merely vanity?
I think that when doctors become legislators, and have ceased to practise medicine, they should no longer be entitled to call themselves doctors. They should renounce all the medical titles and qualifications that they have acquired during their service in the medical profession.
And if they will not renounce these titles and qualifications, then they should be forced to renounce them.
And so I recommend that all those doctors who have ceased to practise medicine, and who have entered upon new careers, should be struck off the medical register. They should no longer be entitled to call themselves doctors. And they should no longer be allowed to practise medicine, except if they re-qualify to practise it.
After all, if some soldier rises in the ranks of the army, and attains the rank of full colonel, and then leaves the army, then if he returns to the army, should he be allowed to rejoin as a full colonel? Surely he should begin again at the bottom, and work his way back up to the top? If he is a good soldier, he will rise rapidly. And if not, not. In his absence, the army is likely to have adopted weapons and tactics with which he is unfamiliar. His former skills may have become obsolate. What use is a cavalry officer in a tank battalion?
Sally Davies describes herself as Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies. But if she’s no longer teaching in a university, is she really entitled to call herself a professor? And since a Dame is the feminine version of a Knight, and a knight is a mounted warrior, then she should have lost that title when she last dismounted from her horse, and hung up her spurs.
And if she no longer practises medicine, she should not be described as a doctor either, as she is in Wikipedia.
The only title to which she is really entitled would seem to be Chief Medical Officer, and nothing else at all.
We should strip away all these redundant titles. We should describe people for what they are, not what they once were.
If nothing else, it would save a lot of ink.