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Justice Is A Complicated Affair, Dr. Barrasso.

Posted on | January 28, 2021 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

Dr. John Barrasso, 1996, source/Spencer Books

“We’re better than this” is the common refrain heard from many political leaders following the deadly assault on our democracy on January 6th. Are we really?

One year ago, my physician friend, Senator John Barrasso, famously said, “The time for political stunts is over. The Senate had a fair trial and clear acquittal. Republicans stayed true to the Constitution. Now the Senate gets back to work for the American people.” How did that work out for you, John?

This has been a week of empty appeals for blind appeasement and shifting of blame in the interest of “bringing our country together.” But as Senator Barrasso’s former colleagues in Medicine learned on their first day of Medical School, the only way to face bad news is to confront it, share it honestly with your patient and family, and together agree on the best curative course of action.

Justice is a complicated affair. A quick review of medical history is instructive – specifically Germany in 1945 and South Africa in 1995.

In sorting through the legacy of Hitler’s regime in Germany, the Allied forces established the International Military Tribunal.  One of the series of trials, opened on November 19, 1945 in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, delved into egregious examples of medical criminality, including Nazi experimentation on human subjects. These trials are often cited as an example of “retributive justice.” Of 23 defendants, 7 were hanged, 7 acquitted, and the rest given sentences of from 10 years to life in prison.

These judgments were conducted under the direction of U.S. judges and prosecutors and fully compliant with U.S. standards of criminal procedure. Yet another 25 years would pass before any of the 10 agreed-upon medical ethics research standards were integrated into US trial law.

Legal scholars such as Michelle Miller at Cornell Law School attribute this lapse to the self-regarding biases of leaders within the Medical Industrial Complex. As Jay Katz, a physician and professor of law at Yale wrote in 1992 of the Nuremberg directives, “It was a good code for barbarians, but an unnecessary code for ordinary physician-scientists.”In other words, it was assumed that American medicine’s noble professionalism was adequate to ensure appropriate ethical standards.

Adding to the irony, at the very same moment that the leaders of the Medical Industrial Complex were rejecting President’s Truman’s 1946 call for a national health plan as “socialized medicine”, our military under the Marshall Plan was fast at work creating highly successful national health plans for our two main vanquished archenemies, Germany and Japan. We were willing to allocate precious taxpayer resources to assure this expression of “restorative justice.”

An analysis of the German and Japanese programs made some years later by the Rand Corporation summed up the Marshall Plan’s rationale: “Nation-building efforts cannot be successful unless adequate attention is paid to the health of the population. The health status of those living in the country has a direct impact on the nation’s construction and development, and history teaches us it can be a tool in capturing goodwill of the nation’s residents.”

A similar restorative approach was utilized in South Africa in 1995. Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted over 1000 public hearings on their road to a free democracy, offering amnesty to those who publicly admitted past crimes of sectarian violence and asked for forgiveness. Less recognized, Mandela simultaneously instituted fundamental social service reform, including free primary level public health care for all in 1996 serviced in over 350 newly constructed health clinics by 1997.

The crimes of Donald Trump, his followers and enablers, are now fully exposed. Their failures include the mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic, certain to claim more than a half million Americans by April, 2021. As with Germany in 1945, and South Africa in 1995, these crimes involve racism, disinformation, and erosion of public trust. They are egregious, deep-seated, and likely not self-corrective.

To address them, and move our nation forward, we must openly and honestly embrace both retributive and restorative justice. Impeachment of Donald Trump, criminal investigations of his legislative and civilian co-conspirators, and movement toward universal health care in America are now important next steps if we truly wish to “bring our nation together.”

Comments

4 Responses to “Justice Is A Complicated Affair, Dr. Barrasso.”

  1. Lawrence Williams
    January 28th, 2021 @ 10:52 am

    I am terrified that the country that I love may not long survive. 90% of the Senate Republicans have refused to support proceeding with the impeachment of Donald Trump. These people and nearly all of their fellow Republicans at every level of government have been mesmerized by a master con artist to the point of making him a supreme cult deity. They are so enamored, and at the same time so frightened, of this man that just like the Nazis of 1930s Germany who swore an oath to their deaths in homage to Adolf Hitler, they no longer swear allegiance to our nation and the Constitution but rather to the person of their god, Donald J. Trump. This cult and these gutless cowards who run and hide under the bed at the very mention of his name are an existential threat to our democratic republic. Every true patriot must support and defend those few brave Republicans who have remained faithful to their oaths of office and ignored the potential wrath of Trump and supported the action to hold the criminal/con artist accountable for his treason. The life of our nation is at stake.

  2. Denis A. Cortese
    January 28th, 2021 @ 12:42 pm

    Mike: Extremely well done and cogent message. Our more recent external nation building efforts have been less than successful. We ignored some of the key strategies that made the Marshall Plan work. A healthy workforce is one compulsory strategy we have to nail if we are to succeed in INTERNAL nation rebuilding for our future. It is a national security issue.

  3. Mike Magee
    January 28th, 2021 @ 1:22 pm

    Thanks, Denis. Your insights are very important. It seems that when it comes to nation building and combating terrorism, all eyes these days have to be focused inside our own borders. At the same time, the pandemic and global warming force us to acknowledge this is a small and inter-connected planet. Best, Mike

  4. Mike Magee
    January 28th, 2021 @ 2:42 pm

    Thanks, Larry. Clearly our Constitution is a “living document”, in motion now, formative, and with an endpoint as yet undetermined. But of one thing we can be certain, bullying unanswered and unchallenged does not end well. Will Americans take a stand? Time will tell. Mike

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