Monday, February 25, 2008

The needs of the many outweigh the rights of the individual

I just read an article in my local paper, the Vancouver Sun, that has got to be one of the most unsettling things I've read in weeks. A group of doctors - international but led by a Canadian named Dr. Edward Mills - think that "rich Western countries, including Canada, are demolishing African medical systems and destroying African lives by continuing to lure away their health care workers" and that "the problem is so bad future active recruitment should be considered a crime in international law".

Put simply, these doctors feel that if medical recruiters from Canada or America go to Africa and simply inform doctors there of the opportunities and wages available in the west, without lying or in any way misleading them, then those recruiters are committing a crime.

The rationale is that Africa needs doctors more than we do. On the face of it, that seems to make sense. How dare we take doctors away from those who truly need them. However, the unstated subtext is alarming. There is a blatant disregard and disrespect for the autonomy of the African doctors. The implication is that they should not be allowed to leave their own countries in pursuit of their own prosperity. What about personal choice? Are these doctors damned to remain unwillingly in a poor country simply because they were born there? Does this group of doctors not believe the African doctors have free will, or the mental ability to make difficult choices? That they are helpless at the hands of American recruiters? Would they consider it a crime for a North American born doctor to live and work in the United States or Canada making $200,000 a year rather than toil in poverty to help those most in need?

I wonder if this is just short sighted compassion or, dare I suggest, a sign of latent racism? Perhaps I'm reading a bit much into it, but read these lines from the article and tell me they don't give you a sour taste:

The active poaching of African doctors has caused the ratio of physicians to patients in the area to plummet in recent years, Mills said.

And as more doctors leave, the conditions for those that remain deteriorate, making it more likely they'll take the bait offered by recruiters from wealthy nations.

Does it really help to use such condescending language when talking about Africans? We're poaching and baiting them, like animals? Fuck off. Since when does a legitimate job offer to a qualified professional with no misrepresentation constitute malicious "baiting"?

The article goes on to say that "the authors distinguish between accepting foreign medical staff who seek out opportunities in other countries - which they say is legitimate - and actively recruiting them with advertisements, job fairs and lucrative sign-up packages, which they call a 'violation of the human rights of the people of Africa.'"

Is this not the same as saying "well if they find out about the opportunities on their own we can't stop them, but for god's sake don't tell them!" Also, the general population of any country emphatically does not have the right to be treated by a doctor against that doctor's will. These people have overcome some pretty major boundaries, worked their asses off, gone through medical school, and now they have the skills to help others and become a success, and then some group of high and mighty doctors says those skills do not, in fact, belong to the person who earned them, they belong to the government. And the government will punish whoever dares to direct those skills away from the greater good.

The idea that people have some absolute and enforceable (force is the key) duty to only exert their efforts to the benefit of others, regardless of personal choice, is distinctly un-American and also un-Canadian. Not only that, its logically incoherent. This afternoon I plan to go skiing. It will cost me about $50. That's $50 that could have gone to AIDS research. Am I committing a crime? If I donated that $50 to education in Africa, but not to AIDS research in Africa, am I committing a crime?

The very reason America is able to pay doctors so much, the very reason they don't have terrible public health crises of their own, the very reason we have the ability in North America to waste our money on frivolous things like plastic surgery and ski passes is the inaliable right of the people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - our right to work for anyone willing to hire us, for as much money as we can weasel into our contracts. Fuck communism, fuck the greater good, fuck enforced poverty and enforced charity, and fuck anti-African racism masquerading as so much hippie feel-goodery.

p.s. After reading over this post, I realized I might have come across as somehow insensitive to the myriad hardships facing millions of African people every day. I am not. I sincerely applaud anyone willing to sacrifice potential wealth and devote their time to solving some of the most difficult problems the world has. However, I have enough respect for Africans as human beings to acknowledge their complete ability to make that decision for themselves, and their right to be as wonderfully greedy and selfish as they wanna be, should they so choose.

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