Now that America finally has a Surgeon General, you would think that the debate over his appointment would give way to an honest and serious effort to evaluate Vivek Murthy’s performance as he leads the nation’s public health effort for at least the next two years. But there’s one guy out there who simply can’t leave the issue behind, and as he continues to fulminate over Obama’s choice for Surgeon General, the hot air and the lies continue to expand. I am referring to Tim Wheeler, the sometime head of an alleged organization which claims to represent thousands of physicians who support ‘responsible’ ownership of guns. The NRA has been pushing this quack into the public arena ever since the gun lobby decided that the listing of gun violence as a public health problem meant that physicians had become, to gun owners, Public Enemy Number 1.
I didn’t notice the automobile industry attacking physicians when car accidents made the list as a public health problem. In fact, Detroit collaborated with public health researchers when it came to designing and producing safer cars. The same could also be said of the household recreation industry which helped craft legislation passed by state after state which mandated that fences be installed around all in-ground, backyard pools. But somehow the gun industry decided that its products not only did more good than harm, but decided that they did so much more good than harm that the issues of lethality and safety risks didn’t need to be discussed at all. Enter Timothy Wheeler, who has doggedly led the fight to disconnect physicians from any public discussion or publicly-funded research about guns. And if you doubt the validity of anything he says, remember, this is a guy who claims to be an M.D.
Now I’m not an M.D. but I can do simple math. And if guns are the method of choice in 100,000 fatal and non-fatal but serious injuries each year, then we’re not talking about chopped liver in medical terms. We’re talking about a medical condition which costs countless lives, billions of dollars and untold family trauma each year, the human results of which inevitably end up in a critical-care treatment bay with the terrified family and friends waiting to be told whether they’ll ever be able to speak to the shooting victim again.
Wheeler’s latest effort to spread misinformation and stupidity about the role of physicians in gun violence is an op-ed on the National Review website which features his bizarre frothings from time to time. In this particular effort, he not only takes aim at Murthy and the potential danger that he represents for gun owners over the next several years, but he also repeats the fiction that physicians have no right to invade patients’ privacy by advocating “gun control” in the examining room.
If Wheeler is so lacking in the most rudimentary understanding of how medical professionals attempt to asses patient risk he can be excused if only because he may not know how much disinformation he’s handing out. But if he’s aware of how physicians are trained to assess medical risk then he’s just pandering to an audience who can be excused for not knowing what Wheeler’s supposed to be talking about.
Physicians usually begin an examination by asking the patient how he or she feels. The answer to that question prompts the next question, the answer to the next question prompts a third, a fourth and as many questions and answers as the physician needs to ask in order to assess the health risk of the patient sitting in the examination room. To place any limits on the doctor-patient exchange of information is to ask a physician to violate the Hippocratic oath. But Wheeler’s not interested in the method that physicians use to reduce harm. He’s interested in helping the NRA marketing team, which means he’ll say whatever the gun industry needs to have said in order to sell guns. He’s a good salesman from that point of view; as a physician he says things that simply aren’t true.