Monday, February 18, 2013

But, doctor...

"Dr. Toothacre, can you understand why some patients would think they need to be prescribed heroin in order to deal with the pain they experience after having a tooth extracted?"

This morning, my Baylor colleague Blake Burleson and I went over to State Senator Brian Birdwell's office in downtown Waco. Senator Birdwell is one of the main sponsors of SB 182, the latest attempt by members of the Texas legislature to make it legal to carry concealed weapons into buildings on college campuses, including classrooms, dormitories and libraries. We were accompanied by a small entourage of interested people, including a reporter for the Baylor Lariat, and were met by reporters from three local TV stations, the Waco Tribune-Herald, and KWBU, the local NPR station. We were carrying a petition signed by 120 faculty and staff members at Baylor, explaining why we think the bill is an extraordinarily bad idea.

"Yes, I can understand that. Having a tooth extracted is a significant trauma to the body. It can hurt."

It was kind of eerie standing with Blake in the lobby of 900 Austin Avenue while flashes went off and three TV cameras were trained on us simultaneously. I felt pretty composed as we dealt with primarily softball questions about our reasons for opposing the bill and about its implications.

"It would be a dentist's job, though, to explain to such a patient why the demand for heroin constitutes an excessive and misguided response to that pain."

After the interview, we took the elevator up to the senator's office, where they clearly weren't expecting us. The staffer there was very polite, but emphasized that the Waco office doesn't handle political issues and that the senator was in Austin with his political staff. She kindly offered to scan the petition and send a .pdf to Austin. She also gave me the name of the senator's chief of staff there and suggested I call him. I did. He hasn't responded.

"What would you do, though, if the patient persisted?"

Going back downstairs, we found the reporters still there, and the Fox News reporter asked for a longer interview. He tried to push Blake and me a bit—as I suspected he would—asking whether we understood why some people really wanted the ability to defend themselves and didn't feel comfortable without it. Again, I think we both handled ourselves well and gave valid, articulate responses.

"I would tell him/her that this was a matter for my professional judgment, and that as a medical professional, I could assure him/her that taking heroin would not be beneficial or helpful, no matter what the short-term benefits in terms of pain avoidance."

The point that we tried to leave him with—and that we will try to impress upon the senator if he deigns to meet with us—is this. As education professionals, we are best suited to know what is beneficial to our students and to the learning experience. Just as we would expect our state senator to consult with local dentists before trying to push through a bill mandating that they prescribe heroin for toothaches, so we would expect him to consult with us before trying to push through a bill allowing students to bring guns into our classrooms. The fact that he didn't feel the need to consult with college professors before introducing this profoundly misguided legislation for the second legislative session in a row is telling. It means that he, and the other senators who are sponsoring this bill, do not respect our professional integrity. They don't think we know what's best for our "patients." It's time we told them otherwise.

"And if he/she ignored that advice, I would still know that I had the full support of my profession in giving it. I would know that I had the law, and common sense, behind me as well."

Shouldn't professors be entitled to that kind of support?