Healing the World: Episode 19

Dr. Tavis sits at his desk, half-heartedly working through a stack of patient records as he waits for his young substitute to respond to his summons. He had been hoping the young man would be a candidate to take over his practice eventually, but he's not about to offer it to someone whose ethics are less than sterling.

Dr. Barden stands just outside the office that was temporarily his, trying to nerve himself to go inside.

Tavis just hopes that the mishandling of the changeover won't cause his patients to stay away from necessary care, the next time he goes away.

Barden doesn't regret what he did because he knows it was the right thing, but that doesn't mean he expects to enjoy the consequences of getting caught at it. He squares his shoulders bravely, opens the outside door to the waiting room, and steps inside. He knocks at the inner office door.

Barden: Dr. Tavis?

Tavis's voice is ~~ cold ~~.

Tavis: Come in, Dr. Barden.

Barden opens the door and steps inside. He closes the door behind himself.

Tavis does not offer his young colleague a seat.

Tavis: I would like to hear your side of this... fiasco.

Tavis shoves the pertinent chart across his desk.

Barden looks his senior colleague firmly in the eye. He knows he's in trouble, but he's not ashamed of what he did.

Barden: I saved a young man's life by taking him to a channel when he was in changeover. His parents would have had me murder him.

Tavis: And did the young man freely agree to be rescued?

Barden: He did, once he understood his options.

Tavis is wondering how far Barden is willing to stretch the truth.

Tavis: And what options did you offer him?

Barden: Suicide... or a full and productive life, without killing.

Tavis: And when you made that offer, which did the boy choose?

Barden: The latter, of course.

Tavis gives Barden his patented "Don't try to take me for an idiot" look.

Tavis: I have known the boy all his life, Osbert. I also spoke with him yesterday.

Barden: And what did he say?

Barden is genuinely curious.

Tavis: That the Black Pill you gave him, and which he swallowed, didn't work.

Barden: That one was a placebo. The real one was in my pocket. I would have given it to him had it become necessary.

Tavis: It appears that you didn't have much confidence in the boy's choice. Or is it that you simply disagreed with it?

Barden: His one concern, after we'd discussed everything, was that he might change over before we got to a channel, and kill someone. I feared he might panic if we encountered other traffic.

Tavis: Which is why he swallowed what he thought was a Black Pill on the porch of the Sime Center?

Barden shrugs.

Barden: He did panic. Simple fear of the unknown, at that point.

Tavis: Was it, really? Or was it one last attempt to wrest control of his own life from your unwanted "assistance"?

Barden: He had certainly indicated in our earlier discussion that he wanted it. And he still could have refused Hajene Bibi's aid, had he truly wished to.

Tavis: Since he was convinced that he was dying anyway, he had no reason to. Yet another instance of meddling with a patient's options.

Barden: The option was still his.

Barden has perhaps a rather naive view of what a Sime in need will choose when offered a source of selyn.

Tavis: No, it wasn't. You took his options away, and you're compounding your questionable ethics then, by lying about what you did now.

Barden: By the time he swallowed that pill, he was near enough to breakout that he wouldn't have died until he was already, by his parents' standards, doomed by God. He would have been unconscious, but not yet dead, when his tentacles broke out.

Tavis: And whose fault was that? Do you think it might have had something to do with the hours you spent trying to browbeat him into accepting a course of treatment that was unacceptable to him?

Barden: I didn't browbeat him. I discussed it with him.

Tavis: Osbert, I have been giving children in changeover the option of going to the Sime Center since it opened. It doesn't take two hours.

Barden: It might, if their parents have filled their heads with old-fashioned nonsense.

Tavis: It's not your place as a physician to dictate what religious convictions your patients may have. Or to force them to act contrary to their beliefs by trickery and bullying.

Barden: I did not bully him. I simply discussed things with him.

Tavis: Over and over, for more than two hours, ignoring his clearly stated wishes. You didn't give him a choice between suicide and life. You gave him a choice between going to the Sime Center or becoming a killer.

Barden: If he had refused to go to the Sime Center, I would have given him the Black Pill -- the real one -- while there was still time to murder him properly.

Tavis: Did you tell him that? Or did you leave him thinking he would kill?

Barden: The pill bottle was on the table in front of him, the whole time we talked. He knew what it was.

Tavis: The real one? Or that fish oil pill you spilled ink on?

Barden: The real one. I made the switch later, when I handed him the pill. Simple sleight-of-hand.

Tavis: And you felt no compunction about overriding his choice in that fashion?

Barden: As I said, he was afraid he might kill. And I was afraid he might panic, while there was still plenty of time.

Tavis: You were telling him that there was plenty of time, as you took him to the Sime Center?

Barden: I told him, as we left here, that we should still have at least an hour. The trip takes less than half that.

Tavis: So, you implied that there was still time for him to die as a child.

Barden: Yes. And there was, at the time we left.

Tavis: Did you tell him that there wouldn't be, by the time you arrived?

Barden: No. But if the Black Pill had genuinely been needed, if we'd been delayed on the journey, I would have granted him a gunshot once he was unconscious. That much, I was willing to concede to his parents' beliefs.

Tavis: Tell me, Dr. Barden, did you sleep through your ethics seminar in medical school, or were you suffering from an extreme buildup of ear wax that prevented you from hearing a word that was said?

Barden: Please, Doctor, don't patronize me. I know what choices I made, and I know that many people would disagree with me.

Tavis: You don't think that your patient also had the right to make his own choices? Even if other people -- like you -- happened to disagree with the choice he made?

Barden: He made his choice. Before we left this office.

Tavis: He made his choice when he came here for help. Or do you think that he didn't know exactly where the Sime Center is?

Barden: His parents had him so brainwashed, he hadn't even thought of it as a possibility. He was convinced, at first, that they torture people there.

Tavis: He knew they would make him live as a Sime, yes. As for the rest, a year ago, when he reached the dangerous age, I explained exactly what the Black Pill would do, and that if he preferred it, I would take him to the Sime Center.

Barden: He expected horrible things. He wasn't clear on what kinds of horrible things. But of course he wouldn't have chosen that, until he'd learned otherwise. I told him what a Sime Center's really like. He said he'd heard that but didn't believe it. So I told him what I'd seen for myself. I described what it's really like to donate.

Tavis: Do you think you're the first to do that? Or weren't you aware that a lot of his Gen classmates donate?

Barden: He believed his parents over his classmates. But a doctor is an authority figure; he listened to me. Besides, I think he wanted to listen to me. He wanted an alternative to death.

Tavis: If he had been interested in your offer, it wouldn't have taken you two hours to convince him.

Barden: He had a lot of questions, and a lot of odd ideas. We talked about all kinds of things: religion, responsibility, fear of the unknown. You can't do that in five minutes.

Tavis: And it appears that you are equally difficult to convince to see reason.

Barden shrugs.

Barden: Your version of reason. Which I concede is different from mine.

Tavis sits back in his chair, resolving to try one more time before he ruins the career of this promising, if unethical, young colleague.

Tavis: Look, I know the medical school lectures are filled with all sorts of romantic dreams of passing out cures to grateful patients. When you start practicing in the real world, you discover that there are a surprising number of patients who don't want to be cured. Often for reasons that make no sense to you.

Barden nods, listening.

Tavis: Sometimes when a patient refuses to be cured, they have a good reason. Sometimes, they don't. But even so, once you have informed them of their options, the choice is theirs. Not yours.

Barden starts to say something, then thinks better of it and instead nods again.

Tavis raises an eyebrow.

Tavis: You don't think your patients have the right to self-determination? Or maybe it's just that you think they only have the right to self-determination when you happen to agree with their choices?

Barden: No. It's not that. But... if I were to ask you to drop a Black Pill down my throat, right now, would you do it?

Tavis is more tempted by the prospect than a dedicated physician ought to be.

Tavis: I have never dropped a Black Pill down a patient's throat. Nor has any other ethical physician.

Barden: All right, then. To hand me one with a glass of water, in the expectation that I would swallow it.

Tavis: If you fit the criteria for prescribing it, yes. Unfortunately, being exceptionally stubborn and possessed of questionable ethics doesn't qualify.

Barden: Wouldn't you first check to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, or insane, or misinformed about either the nature of the pill or my own medical condition?

Tavis: The boy in question wasn't hallucinating, or insane, or misinformed about the nature of the pill or his own condition. He knew exactly what his options were, and had made his choice.

Barden: A choice based on insufficient information about what it is to become Sime. I simply tried to inform him further.

Tavis: Further information hasn't changed his mind, apparently. The Sime Center has him on suicide watch.

Barden is horrified.

Barden: You mean... it wasn't just panic? Even now that he sees what it's like, he'd rather be dead than Sime?

Tavis: Yes. Of course, dying now would be no comfort to his family, since he lost the chance to die without tentacles. Still, he wouldn't have to live as a Sime. Did you really spend two hours talking with the boy, and fail to understand that his beliefs are as strongly held as your own?

Barden: He... I... He seemed to believe me. He said he didn't want to have to die.

Tavis: Of course he didn't. Who does?

Barden: Dr. Tavis. I...

Barden stands up a little straighter.

Tavis waits to see if his lecture has had any effect.

Barden: I believe I have failed as a healer. I shall be seeking an alternative choice of career. Will you be so kind as to take care of having my certification cancelled?

Barden has a slightly stunned look on his face.

Tavis considers the request for a long moment.

Tavis: Osbert, I probably should, but I don't think I will. Not yet. Underneath that arrogance, I think there may yet be a healer.

Barden just stares at Tavis, his shoulders slumped.

Tavis: If you can learn to serve your patients.

Barden: I -- I thought I had, sir. I was trying to. I guess I'm just not very good at it.

Tavis: Try listening to your patients, instead of talking at them. You'll learn a great deal.

Barden nods, but it doesn't look like his attention is still here in this room.

Tavis: Now, before you do anything else, I believe you ought to pay a call at the Sime Center. The boy deserves to know that it wasn't his resolve that failed. Maybe that will give him the courage to face the life you forced on him.

Barden brings his attention back to Tavis. He takes a moment to process the words he just heard.

Barden: Uh, yes, sir. I... need an hour or two first. To get my wits together.

Tavis nods a curt dismissal, and goes back to his paperwork.

Barden leaves the office like a man sleepwalking. In his mind, he's going over and over that night's conversation. How could he have made such a mistake? How could he have missed the fact that he still hadn't convinced the boy of the truth?

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