One of the latest headlines in my favourite newspaper: "Doctors zeal to protect children was his undoing". The story was of a Montreal pediatrician, Dr. Alain Sevard, whose diligence in attempting to protect children from violence resulted in such reaction and criticism, because he was not always right, that he felt his only recourse was suicide. The story is of a caring pediatrician, with a reputation for being an expert in child abuse, frequently consulted by emergency departments in cases of suspected child abuse, who became a victim of his own caring because he was not always right. Consulted in many cases of brutal child abuse, Dr. Sevard always hoped he was making the best decision, but when in doubt suspected the worst and turned over the case to the child welfare services and for this he was demeaned and punished. That was because on occasion he was wrong and indignant parents and family were more concerned with their own reputation than with child protection. They were slighted and they had to have their revenge. The folks who so fearlessly demand more aggressive pre-emptive action by physicians and child welfare agencies in cases with tragic outcomes, are the first to criticize those who act decisively often to their own detriment. Particularly disturbing, is that the Provincial College of Physicians, a body that often hypocritically voices concern over the physical and mental health of excessively stressed physicians ( and I can inform you from personal experience that few physicians are not excessively stressed, unless they work for the government) seem to enjoy participating in the witch hunt. What message does this send to young physicians?
Most of the time Dr. Sevard's suspicions were correct, but on occasion they were not. Outraged parents reported to the media that Dr. Sevard had reported them to Child welfare for suspected child abuse, based on the evidence he had observed. That was precisely what he was supposed to do, if he had grounds to be even suspicious of such circumstances. That is what he did. But the media make a feast of such situations and once the folks smell blood, they are relentless in their pursuit of he who embarrassed them. The results of the chase was that the College of Physicians, (who should have known better than to pander to the press's demand for immediate action) and the hospital, which I presume thought doing something would make them look good, revoked the privileges of the caring doctor and subjected him to calumny and contempt. The sad epilogue was that the physician, humiliated and depressed, his life's work and his reputation forever sullied by the media, the College and the hospital, took his own life.
A man who appears to be blameless, was punished mercilessly because in his attempt to protect defenseless children he had offended some innocent parents.
The message is clear. Don't stick your neck out. Too bad if some children get abused and/or battered to death. That's just the way it is in the just society.