• Nassir Ghaemi

The worst lie: Doctors want Covid deaths to make money

Sometimes physicians write me who disagree with my psychological analyses of the current president. There seems to be almost nothing he can say that they won't defend. Or sometimes, they don't bother defending him. They just engage in projection, and attack his opponent, asking me why I don't attack his opponent. (As one person wrote recently: "When will you write about Biden's diminsia?").

I wonder how they will defend this one:

The current president, who almost one in two Americans appear to support strongly, just stated that doctors pad the number of Coronavirus pandemic deaths because they make more money by doing so. He even gave an amount: "$2000 a pop!" There have been thousands of lies recorded in his statements, but this one is both so obvious, and so demeaning that I do not see how any physician could stomach it. As a physician, I think it is reprehensible, besides being so false.

People in his audience actually applauded him for this one. I wonder who the doctors who saved his life in his recent hospitalization feel. It seems that they lost out on about $2000 each had they had failed to save the life of the 74 year-old obese male with hypertension, both major Covid risk factors.

Physicians are taught that they should treat everyone, anyone, as a matter of medical ethics. They are not supposed to make personal or social or political judgments. When John Wilkes Booth killed President Abraham Lincoln, and then broke his ankle when leaping over the theater balcony to escape, he went to a doctor in Virginia, who refused to treat him. Then he went to another doctor in Maryland, the famous Dr. Samuel Mudd, who did treat him. Dr. Mudd was later imprisoned for aiding the murderer, but his defenders held that he was simply practicing standard medical ethics.

This one can't be defended.

In a recent op-ed, the actor Alan Alda referred to the president's claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and people would still vote for him. With his unwillingness to take standard scientifically sound approaches to this pandemic, Alda said, he has in effect killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of people on Fifth Avenue. And yet so many people still are willing to vote for him.

Maybe he knows something about the American people, something along the lines of what H. L. Mencken had in mind when he said: "No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people." Or perhaps even more aptly from Mencken: "The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” A letter writer to the Washington Post recognized these truths in February 2016 before the current president won election. After four years, Mencken's wisdom seems confirmed by the continuing support of many Americans for the current president.

We can only hope that another maxim, from the Israeli diplomat Abba Eban (often misattributed to Winston Churchill) proves true of America: "Nations do behave wisely," Eban remarked, "once they have exhausted all other alternatives."

There are hundreds of thousands of deaths on Fifth Avenue. And the man responsible for many of those deaths is blaming the doctors who have saved many more. Four years of the alternative have been exhausted.

Will the nation finally act wisely?

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