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Opinion Talking Point

John Launer: Doctors as activists

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q939 (Published 24 April 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q939

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Re: John Launer: Doctors as activists

Dear Editor

As suggested, there are many doctors who have been called to activism over the decades, having invested their knowledge and social capital into their advocacy work. The scope of activism explored by medical activists over the years encompasses sanitation, nuclear threats, health inequity, racism, reproductive justice amongst others, emphasising how much medics have an ability to change both the medical profession and society itself.(1)

To add to the work of Chekhov and Stone, it is important we spotlight the recent works of Lynne Jones, doctor and aid worker, in her book "Sorry for the inconvenience but this is an emergency: The nonviolent struggle for our planet's future" which offers a powerful and compelling account of her journey to activism.(2) She shares her 1980s experiences at Greenham Common, opposing nuclear weapons, through to her experiences with Extinction Rebellion today, offering a ground-level account of the important role of nonviolent direct action in meaningful social change. The book reminds us that we have more power than we realise and it's important to use it before it's too late.

Launer concludes with remarks of many of us being "in awe" of the courage of doctors who take personal and professional risks for such important causes. Dr Sarah Benn, who was suspended by the GMC after engaging in peaceful climate action has been clear, she does not want this to be about her, but about the urgency of climate crisis . (3) Similarly, I attended a book launch for Jones's book, and she barely talked about herself, and mostly about the urgency of the cause. The best compliment we can give people we admire for their activism is to be a part of the movement ourselves.

The are many struggles which have preceded us and many that will go on after us - it's our call how we engage with it when we're around. Very few people who advocate for others and meaningful change enjoy the praise they get. Other people's activism, if we engage authentically with it, should remind us to also do the work. This is what they would want too.

1) Podolsky S, Jones D. Medical activists as agents of change BMJ 2022; 379 :o3049 doi:10.1136/bmj.o3049

2) Jones,L. Sorry for the inconvenience but this is an emergency. The nonviolent structure for our planet’s future. Hurst & Company, London. 2024.

3) Lowden, S. Suspended climate protest doctor says fitness-to-practise rules need review. Doctors.net. 2024. Available at: https://www.doctors.net.uk/news/suspended-climate-protest-doctor-says-fi... (Accessed 29 April 2024)

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 April 2024
Rammina Yassaie
Medical Doctor, Senior Lecturer
Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield Hallam University