Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Life and Death

The politics of fear

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 01 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1273
  1. Iona Heath, president, Royal College of General Practitioners
  1. iona.heath22{at}

Doctors have a responsibility to refute politicians’ specious claims

Human beings live their lives burdened by fear of what the future might hold; the task of doctors is, as far as possible, to reduce that burden because fear and anxiety are, in themselves, causes of significant suffering and ill health. The sadness is that leading politicians seem to be developing a pattern of using fear as a political tool.

On 21 January 2001, former prime minister Tony Blair gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. The following interchange occurred:

“On 15th January 2003 you told the House of Commons that, and I quote all of this: ‘There are circumstances in which a UN resolution is not necessary, because it is necessary to be able to say in circumstances where an unreasonable veto is put down that we would still act.’ Now Lord Goldsmith, as you know, has said in his statement to us that these words of yours were not compatible with the advice that he had given to you the day before. Did you understand at the time that your words about an unreasonable veto were inconsistent with the legal advice?

“The Rt Hon Tony Blair: ‘I was …

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