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Professionalism in Troubled Times

Wednesday, December 8, 2004


After Sept 11, 2001, the world rallied around the USA. A common opinion was that the act of terrorism had been defeated by giving the world a cause around which to unite. In spite of the devastation in New York, the situation worldwide looked hopeful in many respects.

Today, circumstances are quite different. In only a little over a year and a half, a deep political rift has developed between the US and many countries in Europe and the world. Suffice it to say that the politicians who have contributed to the rapid deterioration of that unity must bear the responsibility.

The nations of the West, as one of the world's civilizations, have certain beliefs and values in common. Among these is freedom of self- expression, as formulated in the laws of democracy and human rights. Other parts of the world do not put the same emphasis on these values, while embracing other ones.

To me, abuse of the power that any person may have is the ultimate sin. This may be the power of the parent, the power of the policeman, the power of the doctor, the bureaucrat, the politician, or the dictator. If this power is abused, the integrity of that individual is gone and the power vested in him should be removed. As most of us are in some way or other in a position of power, our attitude towards power should be a subject for frequent deliberation and contemplation. Power in itself is neither good nor bad; it is there to be exercised. However, the boundaries limiting the abuse of power are often narrow. Power has a tendency to corrupt its carrier, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton pointed out.

Dictators abuse power by basing their legitimacy on force. One of the most hopeful signs of progress during the last 50 years is that dictators have been brought to justice. Even if the various civilizations of the world do have different core values, no civilization endorses dictatorship as a value in itself. Thus any dictator in the future must contemplate the possibility -and indeed probability- that he, or she, will be brought to justice.

Nevertheless, there is a deep concern about the present state of the world. The politicians have their agendas and we as surgeons can only influence them indirectly. As individuals we have a right, indeed a duty, to express our opinions -whatever they may be.

As professionals, we have - and always have had- a unique opportunity to function as bridge builders. Science is international. Knowledge belongs to anyone able and willing to use it. We professionals have a brotherhood of common interests around the world. Indeed, in the realm of cardio-thoracic surgery, conflicts between nations and peoples are of secondary importance when compared to the sharing of knowledge, and the communication with colleagues around the globe. After World War II, scientists were among the first ones to actively overcome the aftermath of that conflict.

Thus, in the re-building of trust and the maintenance of that trust after a crisis period, cardio-thoracic surgeons are in an especially good position to foster development of a global world, which must be the ultimate goal if we are to live in peace and safety.

CTSNet aspires to have a humble role in this procedure. As the main portal for CT surgeons from every corner of the world, CTSNet will continue to provide the world with factual knowledge about our profession. Information about many of the humanitarian aid projects in CT Surgery already in action or being developed will be channelled through CTSNet. CTSNet will be a source of professional inspiration for all of us in troubled times.

Cardio-thoracic surgeons do not make high policy. We are not the decision makers initiating the struggle for life or death on the battlefield. Our focus is the individual patient, whether that person is a soldier or a civilian caught in conflict or the ordinary patient under peacetime conditions. As a group, we can contribute to minimizing the effects of any conflict by exercising the power we possess in a beneficial way, and by maintaining our professionalism.

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