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Bad lessons from Dr. Oz

EthicsLetters to the Editor

I thank the Tribune for addressing Dr. Mehmet Oz’s tenuous ethical balance between entertainment and medicine in "Dr. Oz, it's time to heal thyself" (Commentary, July 24).

The idea of ethics-driven medicine is not idle philosophy to most doctors. In the classroom and in the hospital, I see doctors grappling daily with our “golden rule”: First, do no harm.

In boring, non-televised medicine, I see doctors forgo treatments that “could” work if there isn’t enough evidence or the risks just seem too high for a particular patient. We are not eager to bet on long-shots without first understanding the harms we might also be doing.

Dr. Oz is now practicing medicine in the opposite manner. He is a cheerleader for some unproven “natural” treatments. A few of these treatments may turn out to be helpful, but he has gone against the core of medical ethics by promoting them without restraint.

This isn’t a matter of a good doctor losing his way. The principle of “First, do no harm” is what makes someone a doctor. Dr. Oz doesn’t care. You won’t hear him talk about how his “miracle drug” might, say, interact with your current medications or cause major bleeding, only that you just might happen to lose weight with it.

I am just a young medical student. But my classmates and I will be the work-horses of American medicine for the next generation. What lesson is Dr. Oz teaching us by being so cavalier about the real risks and potential gains of unproven treatments? The opinion in the Tribune points out the lives Dr. Oz has saved, but as doctors we must be equally aware of the harms we might also do.

I will continue to urge organized medicine to take a stand. We are not a perfect profession and we are far from perfect individuals, but doctors have a tradition of asking the hard ethical questions -- and I want to make sure we keep asking them. 

-- Benjamin Mazer, medical student, University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.

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