Flying High

The premature death of an acquaintance causes Dalrymple to ponder human equality:

There is an existential equality to or inherent in Man – between men – that transcends their individual characteristics. This is recognised in medical ethics, according to which a doctor makes no enquiry into the moral worth of his patient, but treats him as best he can whatever he is like. When people discovered that I worked as a doctor in a prison, they asked me whether I did not find it difficult sometimes to treat people who had done the most terrible things. Oddly enough, I did not find it at all difficult; a doctor is like a lawyer at a trial who presents the best case he can on behalf of his client, even if he knows him to be a perfect swine. He puts such considerations out of his mind: it is not his place to decide whether a man merits his suffering, as in many cases he does; and what at first is a conscious decision soon becomes second nature. I once had a patient who, acting as a baby-sitter for a neighbour, impaled three children on railings, and who now had a cough. I treated the cough as I would have treated anyone else’s cough. We are lucky to live in a society in which we do not treat people after their desert, for huge numbers of us are treated much better than we deserve.

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