Violation of an Oath, a Person, and a Profession: Erin Vaught and Ball Memorial Hospital

At the beginning of every physician's career, there is a moment in which we commit ourselves irrevocably to the wellbeing of our fellow humans. At that moment, when a physician takes his oath of responsibility -- whether it is the Hippocratic Oath of the medical physician or the Chiropractic Oath of the chiropractic physician -- we become responsible to a good far broader than our petty, individual prejudices. From the moment I took my oath to the present day, I have striven to uphold its tenets. Whether it is navigating the thickets of a patient's privacy requirements to ensure that they receive the best care, or challenging health insurers whose policies would require me to commit malpractice, I have always held in mind the obligations of this oath.

So I am understandably sickened when I come across examples of other doctors who not only ignore their moral obligations, but actively violate them to the detriment of their patient. Of course, the Josef Mengele wannabees who conducted the Tuskegee Experiment immediately come to mind.

But not far behind is the as-yet unnamed doctor and his employer, Ball Memorial Hospital, who recently threw a critically ill woman out of their emergency room because she is a transsexual woman. But the expulsion only occurred after several hours during which hospital patient Erin Vaught, vomiting blood and suffering from intractable pain, was subjected to ridicule and derogation at the hands of other hospital employees, being referred to as a "he-she" and being entered into the hospital database as a male, even though her ID card clearly identified her as a female.

Here is part of what happened, in her own words:

They completed my regestration [sic] and I saw that had put "M" as my gender. I pointed out that my ID says female. She looked annoyed and the lady next to her snickered. She told this jock type triage person to take my vitals; he glared at me for a second and turned his head and said, "Remember payback sucks."

You can read her full account here.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have previously written extensively about how transgender people should be treated by doctors, and that I hold in low esteem those who discriminate against people with gender variations.

I fully understand that sometimes people do hurtful things to others out of ignorance. But in this day and age, there is no excuse for any health professional to be unaware of the needs of this demographic. In addition, and quite clearly, the activities of Ball Memorial Hospital and its employees went far beyond those which can be written off as ignorance.

They were words and actions intended to hurt. Intended to humiliate. Designed to violate the very core of the oath that those physicians had taken on the day they became doctors.

I am absolutely appalled, yet at the same time, relieved. I am appalled that the incident even occurred, and even more stunned at the hospital's decidedly pusillanimous response. And I am at the same time relieved that I do not belong to a profession which indulges and condones such bigotry.

Regardless of what unethical behaviors that chiropractic physicians have been accused of over the years, none of it even approaches the level of disregard for patients and their rights which is a standard feature of mainstream medicine. From selling confidential patient data to pharmaceutical companies to denying medical care to black men to watch them die from untreated syphillis, my profession has never come close to the level of depravity demonstrated so often by mainstream medicine.

I hope Ms. Vaught and her family find the courage to sue Ball Memorial Hospital. Though such a suit will likely not touch the individuals who perpetrated the crime, it will be as close as anyone gets to a reprimand.

Otherwise, the same reprisal that was visited upon the Tuskegee doctors will also befall the Ball doctors.

That is, nothing. Nothing at all.