As a child I was told that honour was made of the virtues prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. But when I heard the news that 3 Canadian soldiers died in a major road side IED attack in Afghanistan this week I could only question my own honour. How can I sit in the comforts of my home and clinic, while countrymen die abroad and still believe that I hold those same virtues close to my heart.
The soldiers that serve our country leave home, comforts and family for a life of low pay and high risk. In the context of our societal values they live a life of integrity and trustworthiness that is the very essence of honour. But can I say the same?
Honour is contextual. What one society considers honourable another will consider disreputable. The same holds true of values in health care. A surgeon of 1950 would have questioned the moral fortitude of any practitioner that did not work 72 hours straight or come to work with the flu. Modern concepts of patient safety have changed that view. In the same way, we need to challenge our sense of honour in the clinic.
At the end of the day, has every clinician and staff member conducted themselves with integrity, fairness and honesty? If every patient could hear every conversation, would they still respect you?
To compare the daily trails of hospital and clinic life to military service is a non-starter. Honour is contextual and there is no greater sacrifice than to risk your life for your country. That does not mean we shouldn't strive to live an honourable life.
Pro Utilitate Hominum