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Wednesday, Sep 12 2012 11:02 PM

BRIK McDILL: A new standard for candidates seeking public office: the truth

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    Brik McDill

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All my brethren in the medical professions at all levels and in whatever specialty they practice are bound by, among others, four strict ethical canons: 1) patient "informed consent" to a procedure; 2) the practice standard of "knew or should have known"; 3) our fiduciary responsibility to our patient; and 4) our duty to "do no harm." The first applies to any clinical action to be taken with a patient and requires that the patient be given all the facts pertaining to a procedure that attach to the risks and benefits of that procedure, as well as a fully informing discussion of alternatives. The second applies to the necessity of a clinician to be fully trained and knowledgeable in the practice of his specialty so as to be able to accurately anticipate and discuss intelligently the consequences of his treatment or nontreatment of a patient. The second canon is most easily and often understood in cases of a suicide of a patient. The classic argument usually contained within a lawsuit for someone's suicide is that the clinician "knew or should have known" that the patient was at risk and did not intervene timely or appropriately enough to prevent their death. The third canon declares that whatever is clinically performed must work to the advantage and benefit of the patient, not the clinician. The fourth canon insists that no harm be done. Our duty, this canon maintains, is to carefully work ourselves out of our jobs as expeditiously as possible. These canons are critical to the world (and work) of medicine.

I'm wondering if it's not time to apply them to candidates running for public office.

I know what you're thinking: "What universe does this guy live in?"

I'm in my mid-60s, so this round of candidates campaigning for office is not my first rodeo. But it is becoming the most discouraging round ever in terms of falsities put out by both presidential candidates and their staffs. Surely the candidates know that we have the capacity to remember statements made over time and can compare one against a later-made other. And just as surely they must know that we can plainly see candidates bobbing and weaving to find their way out of answering questions directly and truthfully.

But it's always been that way, right? And hasn't the operative phrase for consumers always been "caveat emptor" ("let the buyer beware")? Yes to both. Well, how about a change? Things pertaining to our economy, foreign and domestic affairs, medical coverage through this or that government program, and so forth have gotten so intricate, nuanced and complicated that the layperson cannot possibly make heads or tails out of this or that declaration. Both candidates and their armies of staffers, disciples and advisers swear on penalty of death (placing hands over hearts) that their statements are the biblical truth.

Wouldn't it be handy at both federal and state levels to have within their legislatures a sworn nonpartisan staff charged to provide voters with a report card grading candidates on their "liar's quotient"? That would refer to the number of false statements and dodged questions factored by the number of questions directly, honestly, forthrightly answered.

Why would this help? Simply put, someone who lies, dissembles and misrepresents on the campaign trail doesn't pivot and sprout wings of virtue and honesty upon entering office, and doesn't deserve the fiduciary good faith attached to that office. And wouldn't it be refreshing (and perhaps a bit startling) to find a candidate who followed the ethical canons of honesty, forthrightness, full information, doing no harm, fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities and working themselves out of a job as quickly as possible? That would be the candidate worth giving ear to. And that would be the candidate the framers had in mind when they put our government's how-to manual together.

But then again, what universe does this guy live in?

Brik McDill, Ph.D., of Tehachapi has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.

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