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Some lives are more valuable than others, or so Dr. Chris Milburn would have us believe.
In his Nov. 16 opinion piece, the ER doctor complained that too much of his time is spent making sure that people don’t die. Yes, you read that right. Yes, I, too, thought that was his job.
It’s not the prevention of all deaths that rankles the good doctor. Just the deaths of those he likes to call “the criminal element.” It’s impossible to prevent all deaths in custody, he reasons, so why waste time even trying? Just in case you weren’t immediately struck by the obscene callousness of his attitude, try replacing the word “criminals” in his piece with “people in crisis.”
But that’s not quite his problem. Dr. Milburn pits “the grandma waiting for hip surgery” and “the poor old lady with cancer sleeping next door” against the person in crisis who has the audacity to have that crisis in Dr. Milburn’s ER.
This begs the question: what about the verbally abusive grandma with Alzheimer’s or the cranky old lady who takes a swipe at nurses? No, it’s not those persons in crisis that upset Dr. Milburn. It’s people whose crises result in criminal charges. Awareness of the complex interactions of mental health issues, poverty, and criminality be damned. Presumption of innocence be damned. Forget about compassionate care.
Dr. Milburn’s rant was prompted by the guilty verdict in the criminal negligence case of Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner. Apparently, the state’s concern for the proper care of those it incarcerates leads him to fear he may be next guy dragged off to court to answer for his negligent treatment of a marginalized person. The two special constables in question left an intoxicated man alone and unmonitored in a jail cell for hours with a restrictive spit hood over his face so that he eventually suffocated on his own vomit. If that approach to patient care is acceptable by Dr. Milburn’s standards, he should be concerned about being next.
Dr. Milburn ends his article with an echo of the famous Holocaust poem: “First they came for the jail guards, and I said nothing … until no one was left to speak for me." Apparently, Dr. Milburn’s self-declared respect for the police and the rule of law does not prevent him from comparing the justice system to Nazis when prison guards are held to account for a so-called violent criminal’s death.
ER doctors have extremely stressful jobs that put them at risk in numerous ways. I have the greatest of respect for these people. However, they also need to respect every patient who comes through their doors. Every person who comes to Dr. Milburn for treatment is his patient, regardless of what that person has done, how they are acting, or who brought them there. He has a duty to them. He has sworn an oath. If he has a problem treating them, he should resign.
Christine Cooper is a Halifax criminal defence lawyer.