The Ethics Bureau was asked to discuss the issue of physicians' comments in the media at a sensitive time, during the height of military conflict that began following the kidnapping and murder of three yeshiva students and the kidnapping and murder of a young man from Shuafat.
The Bureau was presented with several examples of political, social or policy remarks by physicians who publicly expressed their opinions-whether via electronic or print media or via social networks and the internet in general.
The complaints that reached the Ethics Bureau link the physicians' statements with the concern that such statements might impact the physician's obligation to treat every patient and give each the best and most professional treatment available. Is there any truth to this assumption? Can the Ethics Bureau make a determination limiting freedom of expression based upon this concern? Isn't the right to express political or social positions part of civilian conduct in a democratic country?
In some of the examples raised before the Ethics Bureau, it was emphasized that despite the fact that physicians expressed their personal opinions on different matters, they gave devoted and exemplary care to anyone who needed their professional expertise.
Also noted were the sick and injured who were treated in Israeli hospitals during the fighting and received professional treatment and care with no discrimination whatsoever.
Freedom of expression is part of the larger right to freedom and includes listening to opinions and positions from a place of mutual respect of autonomy and the opportunity to try and convince the other side within the context of a democratic society. As Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” What happens, then, when the content or form of free expression may harm the trust of patients in their physicians or the dignity of the profession?
The members of the Ethics Bureau were asked to find the accommodation between allowing freedom of expression and the physician’s obligation to preserve the dignity of the profession while preserving a relationship of trust and an unbiased attitude towards patients. The main question raised was: is there any room to limit physicians’ freedom of expression, a basic right of each individual in a democracy, in order to preserve these principles.
- Physicians have the right to freedom of expression as citizens of the country.
- It is recommended that physicians use discretion when expressing themselves in the media and, in general, uphold the precept of “Wise men, be careful with your words” (Avtalyon, Ethics of Our Fathers)
- The physician shall act with responsibility, consideration, respect and tolerance in his or her speech in general and in the media in particular.
- The physician shall express himself/herself with restraint in any context connected to his or her profession or place of work.
- The physician shall not abuse his or her position or status by presenting views as based upon specialized knowledge of medicine.