Such things as values

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 17 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:a

On the impassioned debate over genetically modified foods, Tessa Richards quotes Professor Richard Macrory: “If the British government is to avoid this sort of conflict in the future, it must recognise that there are such things as values” (p 1033).Values—the good, the bad, and the ugly—turn up all over the place in this week's journal.

No prizes for guessing the values of the male surgeon who ranted when assigned a female trainee assistant: “Anybody but the girl! Give me a trained monkey—I'd rather have anything but the girl!” This quotation comes from Sarah Creighton's dissection ofThe Woman in the Surgeon's Body,which launches our redesigned review section (1088).The book's author is an anthropologist who turned her attention to women surgeons in the United States after conducting a study of their male counterparts.

Women and their doctors—male and female—feature elsewhere in this week's journal. David Hutchon and Sandra Cooper counsel doctors to avoid using the term “abortion” when describing spontaneous pregnancy loss (p 1081). They argue that using a word that means “termination of pregnancy” to the lay public may compound the distress of miscarriage. In an accompanying editorial, Paul Freeling and Linda Gask believe that changing the terminology may not be enough (p 1028).”The risk is that mere use of the correct' terminology, with no attention paid to the wider aspects of a consultation, could lead to professional complacency.” GP choice

Attempts to change the world merely by changing the words used to describe it are targeted by Brian Salter in his personal view of the government's intentions for the NHS (p 1091). He describes the government's achievements so far as “virtual politics” where “it is the immediate symbolism of the policy illusions which is of paramount importance, rather than the practicality of the content.” It gave us “NHS Direct and specialist appointments within two weeks for everyone with suspected cancer classified as urgent by their GP: excellent copy.”

In his editorial David Pencheon regards NHS Direct (the 24 hour health telephone helpline) much more favourably and sees it as a possible precursor to Welfare Direct for the public and Knowledge Direct for the professional (p 1026).Pencheon wonders whether its speed of implementation indicates that fulfilling political promises has taken precedence over rigorous evaluation. But he's heartened by the study of Lattimer and colleagues in this week's journal (p 1054). This found no increase in adverse outcomes in people managed by a nurse telephone consultation service with decision support software in comparison to those managed by doctors in the traditional manner.

View Abstract

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Free trial

Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial