Doctors can take lesson from Surgeon General Murthy to stand on principle

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy
Doctors should demand to know why Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was fired by the White House, one physician says.

When Vivek H. Murthy’s photo suddenly disappeared late last month from the Surgeon General’s Twitter account, Hakique Virani, M.D., said he wondered who would be next.

Indeed, Murthy—who had taken positions different than the views of President Donald Trump—had been dismissed by the White House after he refused to resign. Over the years, Murthy has been vocal in his support of the value of childhood vaccines, which Trump has questioned, as well as gun control and affordable healthcare.

“The public needs to know why Murthy was asked to resign. Doctors do, too,” writes Virani, a doctor and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, in an opinion piece on STAT. “We are often at the intersection of politics, ethics and health and, when confronted by a conflict of interest, should act like Murthy. He made the sort of sacrifice that defines our profession—the kind based on the unchanging 'patients first' credo.”

Doctors can learn a lesson from Murthy to stand by their principles and also put patients first as they face conflicts, such as resisting efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to influence what medications they prescribe and balancing market variables and medical ones, Virani says.

This week, seven Senators wrote a letter (PDF) to Trump asking why Murthy was removed as Surgeon General before his four-year term expired. Murthy’s dismissal raised serious concerns, they wrote, “especially in light of your Administration’s pattern of politically motivated and ethically questionable personnel decisions.”

Trump continued his shake-up Washington approach with two new recent appointments to the Health and Human Services Department. He appointed two pro-life activists, who reportedly support controversial positions in conflict with scientific research. Trump appointed Charmaine Yoest, who news reports said believes abortions cause breast cancer, and Teresa Manning, who is opposed to some forms of birth control, including the so-called morning-after pill, to positions at HHS.