WickedEye's Quotient

10/01/2009 at 23:31

Metousiosis*- Law and Medicine

I wrote this on the Saturday after my first week of medical school. In a gesture of hope and intent, I'm posting it now, 8 hours away from my first medical school exam.


The relationship between law and medicine is that between the things to which we belong and the things which we own. And because we live in our own bodies, live individual lives in the midst of others who do the same, the relationship between the two is inextricably intertwined.

I didn’t think this way when I set out to study both. I merely observed that all the most basic human rights—the ones that had concerned me, literally, since I was a child—sat in these areas of human effort. Bodily integrity. Mental health. Food, clothing, shelter. Safety from fear.

Having studied law—been at odds with its study and also been wholly subsumed in its intricacies and its brilliancies—and now, entering upon the study of medicine, preparing myself for a career in medical practice, the consideration of both fields has become weighted. Not biased; never that. My love of language and reverence for the march of law and the advancement of justice in human history, my gratitude and awe at the singular genius and great-mindedness of those who’ve shaped law in the last 400 years, precludes that.

But I want—intend—to practice clinical medicine. My activities within the law will always be linked to that practice. And it’s in this first allegiance, this concept of medicine as a personal undertaking as well as a central necessity of human life, that the difference between law and medicine is most important to me.

Law is the language of the things that own us—those things to which we owe allegiance. Our families, our communities, our countries, our world: they are governed by the rules to which groups of people, not individuals, agree. Of course our personal proclivities and mindsets dictate these interrelationships; but the rules which govern them absolutely, the rules which can be enforced, are set by us as parts of a whole. They are an ongoing negotiation, a discussion in which rules and premises are fluid and understanding of meaning is set by the culture in which the conversation occurs.

Medicine is the language of the thing we own—the single thing within our possession and over which our powers are (or should be) absolute. I have had a life that convinced me, from very early on, that the only things we can ever truly own lie within the limits of our skin. That whatever our bodies can do and our minds can know are the only permanent possessions humans have. The laws which govern what we can do with our bodies can be enforced only to a certain point: we are constantly in possession of that which lies within us. Such possession is a realm into which only the harshest and most abominable societies trespass.

I’ve chosen to be one of those who treat and nurture the latter entity—who live in the latter language. One of those who participates in a conversation governed by physical rules and realities, ones which no amount of negotiation will change or blunt. That we are still discovering those rules and their operation makes the conversation incomplete and oft-corrected, but the acknowledgment and frequent correction of mistakes are a hallmark of those whose main concern is the well-being of those for whom they care, and not for others’ perception of their omniscience. Acknowledgment of one’s limits is the surest sign of honesty.

It’s not this simple, of course; few things ever are. There is significant intermeshing between law and medicine, a great deal of dependence upon the understanding one of the other, even in the absence of any more exigent need.

Yet my understanding of these two fields centers around this dichotomy. My understanding of my own study, and my own approach to both these central areas of human effort, centers around the allegiances we owe others and the rights we have over ourselves—over our one absolute possession. Between a sense of self and a sense of self's place in the midst of those around us.

I want to nurture the former while respecting the latter. And it is the effort of learning to balance both which will occupy the next eight years of my life. The rest of my life, however long it may be, will be spent in maintaining those skills and that balance.

This is how I think, who I am, what I wish to become. It’s a journey that, in many ways, I’m only just beginning.

I can’t wait.


*Metousiosis (uμετουσίωσις): Greek for change of ουσία (essence, inner reality).

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