Following Dr Harold Shipman's conviction in 2000, I wrote an article suggesting he was the secret patron saint of the medical profession, having done what many doctors would kill to do, namely murder their patients.
A month later, in a GP's surgery for a flu injection, I saw my article pinned up in a corner. She tried to laugh it off but plainly it had touched a sympathetic chord. Possibly many doctors keep scrapbooks of their murder successes, filled with obituary notices.
Certainly old women should never allow doctors to "helpfully" rearrange the pillows without first farewelling their family. Still, they can console themselves the good thing about being dead, as they're about to be, is they don't know they are. Perhaps the medical profession adopts a Darwinian survival of the fittest approach, namely if you defeat their attempts to kill you, then you deserve to live.
Shipman was the all-time champion British murdering doctor, knocking off more than 250 Yorkshire old women, although others have been charged but escaped conviction.
The British Medical Journal cited one of these, a Dr John Adams, who was unsuccessfully prosecuted in 1957, as Shipman's role model. I exclude the infamous Dr Crippen, who was hanged in London in 1910, as he was an American.
But despite numerous cases worldwide of doctors gleefully murdering their patients, they're mere pikers compared with those who switched to politics, thereby giving them serious homicidal scale. For example, Haiti's Papa Doc Duvalier had an estimated 30,000 deaths on his scorecard, while Josef Mengele was responsible for thousands of Auschwitz killings.
There's also been mass-murdering African doctors-turned-politicians and, more recently, Radovan Karadzic, the so-called Butcher of Bosnia, who in fairness was also a poet, which was probably the primary homicidal inspiration factor. Today there's Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who's certainly no practitioner of the Hippocratic Oath.
Politicians are drawn from a variety of activities but where are the murdering architects, lawyers, accountants-turned politicians? One of the worst mass killers, Joseph Stalin, trained to be a priest, so no surprise there given clerics' obsession with the after-life.
We're all grateful to nurses, doctors and surgeons when we need them and survive their attempts to kill us. But I suspect that constantly seeing people at their worst induces a detached lack of human empathy, much as abattoir slaughtermen might develop towards life and death, a point, incidentally, made 500 years ago by Sir Thomas More in Utopia.
And don't think it's just the men; rather, feminine cunning enables the murdering women doctors to escape detection. But we frequently read of patient-murdering nurses; indeed, one had the honour recently of being the 500th to be executed in Texas since they restored capital punishment.
Other professions, particularly law and accountancy, hammer members who stray, banging them before tough tribunals which have no hesitation in defrocking them even though, unlike the doctors, they at least haven't killed their victims. Indeed, the accountants employ a QC to lead the prosecution and advertise the hearing as open to the public while we regularly read of lawyers losing their licences or going off to prison, so much so it would make sense to include a course in prison library management in law degrees. But not the medical profession, which serves up wrist-slapping cover-ups, obviously sympath-ising with colleagues who - unlike them-selves, so far - have been nabbed.
I teased a GP friend about his pro-fession's tolerance of quackery, citing, for example, the colonic irrigation racket that sucks in gullible Princess Di-type women with its bogus promise of eternal youth. The reason we don't, he said, is invariably they'll pull some lunatic medical lecturer from Massey University or suchlike, to swear it has benefits. Mind you, I have an anaesthetist friend, Graham Sharpe, who's furious about quackery, and especially colonic irrigation, but he struggles to engender much collegial support. In defence, it could be argued Reiki, foot-tickling plus pseudo-scientific naturopathy, homeopathy and other luna-cies may have a placebo-effect, consoling madwomen with imaginary illnesses, and being cheaper than psychiatrists.
In fairness, the medical profession is not as mercenary as some associated activities. Take the Opticians Association, who are the secret sponsor and promoter of choral singing in New Zealand. Tune in on Sunday mornings to the host of church choirs dirging away and you will see why. They're all wearing spectacles, for it's a scientific fact that singing in church choirs destroys one's sight - understandable, as short of killing the choristers, it's God's only defence against this wailing directed at him other than packing it in and taking up golf.
But here's the clear-cut evidence of the medical profession's nonchalance. Think how often we read of the detection of a bogus doctor who's been "working" in hospitals for years. The mind boggles at how many pseudo doctors are out there.
Contrast that with law. It would be impossible to pass yourself off as a lawyer in the Western world because the profession maintains highly diligent control standards. The nearest I've heard of this is with an Auckland barrister who reputedly has an impeccably tidy and well-ordered office. This is unbelievably suspicious behaviour, all barristers' offices worldwide being appalling pigsties.
Last year, I wrote warning the Auckland Law Society president about the barrister, citing this damning evidence. She replied, acknowledging this worryingly unconventional behaviour, but advised that after checking, she's satisfied as to the validity of his Cambridge degree. I'm still sceptical.