I agree with the positions the student took.
Then I turned to the New York Times, and found an article about whether a medical student in Sweden who had served time for murder should be allowed to become a doctor.
In 2000, Karl Svensson was convicted of killing Bjorn Soderberg. Soderberg had complained to his employers about neo-Nazi materials a co-worker had displayed. The co-worker, a friend of Svensson's, was fired. Svensson himself had been under surveillance for his own neo-Nazi activities.
Svensson was sentenced to 11 years in prison, but was paroled after 6 1/2 years, as is common in Sweden. While in prison he took many web-based courses and did well enough to meet the Karolinska entry requirements. When Karolinska belatedly discovered Svensson's history it found grounds for expelling him.
Now it emerges that Svensson was subsequently admitted to Uppsala medical school!
When I wrote about Svensson's expulsion from Karolinska a year ago (see here) I concluded:
People convicted of murder can be outstanding physicians. In 2001 a medical specialist to whom I had referred many patients, including a member of my own family, was sent to prison for the 1999 murder of his wife. (He maintains his innocence.) He did more than provide excellent technical care - he gave outstanding human attention as well. I was moved by my patients' description of his skill and compassion and was proud to have him as a colleague.If I'm prepared to embrace a physician who has participated in euthanasia as a respected colleague, is it consistent to favor expelling Svensson from medical school?
But the Hippocratic Oath articulates another value - "In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art."
The classmates who wanted Svensson to stay in Karolinska were half right. People who have done their time should have the opportunity to build a new life. For all we know Svensson may have had wanted to make amends for the crime he had been convicted of. But for me the Hippocratic value is the deciding point here. Medicine has its anthropological roots in religion. Many of the prophets in all religions were healers of the body as well as the soul. The obligations the privilege of being a physician entails go beyond what we do in the office and hospital.
I hope that Svensson is committed to making up in the rest of his life for the murder the court concluded he had done. But Karolinska Institute, which expelled him last week, did the right thing.
I believe it is. The compact between clinician and patient is central to ethical assessment of an action. When competent patients (or their surrogates) make a clear request for termination of life support, following their wishes reflects respect for their right to self determination. And although physician assistance in dying (as the process is called in Oregon and Washington, which authorize it) is controversial, with many physicians (though not a majority) opposing it, even opponents recognize that physicians of intelligence and integrity can see assistance in dying - in carefully defined circumstances - as ethically warranted.
Opponents of physician participation in euthanasia can argue that if we allow euthanasia we can't turn around and keep Svensson out of medical school. But I believe this argument is fallacious.
Removing life support, carefully defined voluntary euthanasia and murder all involve actions that bring about the end of life. But just as we can distinguish between a physical exam and sexual assault, we can distinguish between ethically justifiable actions that hasten the end of life and murder.