Politics And Health Should Be Separated

For a long time, I trusted the healthcare profession. Part of that was my time as a Navy corpsman, of course, but part of that was simply the fact that doctors and other healthcare professionals have spent a lot of time learning about the topic and it generally pays to listen to experts.

Unfortunately, though, I can’t actually advise that, and I don’t like having to say that. It seems that these days, far too many doctors are more interested in pushing political opinions as if they’re gospel truths than they are in sticking to their area of expertise. In fact, they’re pretty bad about pretending everything is part of their expertise.

In Spokane, Washington, one physician is in hot water after spouting about politics over and over again.

The trove of documents supporting Spokane Regional Health District Administrative Officer Amelia Clark’s push to fire Dr. Bob Lutz as health officer illuminates tensions that had been building for months.

Some of the emails and documents also appear to show behind-the-scenes political pressure from members of the district’s Board of Health, who didn’t appreciate Lutz writing about systemic racism, attending a Black Lives Matter rally, or his encouraging gun control as it relates to reducing suicides and domestic violence.

It’s also clear from the documentation that Lutz butted heads with Clark, health district staff, and some members of the health board over the years for his stance on gun control, specifically as it relates to his efforts on suicide prevention.

Clark’s notes state that in October, Lutz “directly contacted local officials despite being counselled — on three separate occasions — not to contact legislators and board members in his capacity as Health Officer regarding SRHD operations without first consulting administrator.”

On Oct. 12, Lutz emailed a link to an academic article on gun access and its role in gun deaths in the home to state Sen. Andy Billig and Rep. Marcus Riccelli, who represent Spokane.

The article’s findings note, “In this state-level, cross-sectional study throughout the United States, negligence-specific child access prevention firearm laws were associated with a 13% reduction in all-intent firearm fatalities, a 15% reduction in firearm homicides, a 12% reduction in firearm suicides, and a 13% reduction in unintentional firearm fatalities among children aged 0 to 14 years. Absence of the most stringent negligence laws accounted for 29% of pediatric firearm fatalities.”

Lutz did not quote from the article in his email to the lawmakers, but stated, “While not a surprise any laws around firearms would be seen as controversial, common sense public health measures have an impact.”

In other words, Lutz was using his official position funded by the taxpayers to push his own political positions.

Of course, Lutz has the same right to his opinions as any other American. He also has a right to share them, even if they’re idiotic. Where he runs into a problem is when he takes taxpayer money and uses that position to advocate for those opinions. At that point, he’s not just an ordinary American, he’s a public official pushing for political change.

This is why so many people have no interest in listening to what health officials have to say about much of anything else. Their trust in these officials has been eroded by years of people hiding behind their office and pushing their personal opinions as if they’re simple facts. It’s one thing when an elected official does it–people elect them because of those opinions–but it’s quite another when a bureaucrat does it.

Lutz may well feel completely justified by his actions, but has he thought about the damage such advocacy can do to the trust his position requires? “Wear a mask to prevent the spread of a virus,” Lutz would say, yet how many might have been interested in listening to someone like him, but won’t because we now know he’s more interested in pushing politics than public health?

The thing is, Lutz isn’t unique. Doctors like him fill public health roles all over the nation. They’re people who let their politics drive their thinking, thus making every move they make questionable.

In the process, they do more damage than they can ever imagine to the trust required for them to do their jobs. Frankly, people like this need to be fired, if for no other reason than to restore that trust.

If it can be restored.