Who would want to be medicine’s sacrificial lamb?BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b2414 (Published 15 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2414
- Julian Sheather, senior ethics adviser, BMA
Audiences can be fickle things. Recently I clambered down from my ivory tower and emerged, blinking, on to a brilliantly lit podium at the Cheltenham science festival. The theme of the evening was “Playing God—risk in surgery.” I was on a panel with two surgeons, but my job was to do the ethics. I figured that the live issue would be about balancing paternalism and autonomy. Was there a limit to the amount of risk a patient could be asked to take on? Could illness and the possibility of death be coercive? Could an ambitious surgeon, keen to make a name, lead the desperate into taking impossible and mutilating risks?
How rose tinted must be the windows of the ivory tower. I could not have been more wrong. A charming cardiac surgeon took us on a walk down memory lane, a long, long walk back to the good old, bad old days, the days before the scandals at Alder Hey and Bristol Royal Infirmary had …