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France Teeters on the Brink


In viewing this tragi-comic scene, 

the most opposite passions necessarily succeed, 

and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; 

alternate contempt and indignation; 

alternate laughter and tears;

alternate scorn and horror.

Edmund Burke

Upon first seeing videos of the European farmers’ recent protests, I, along with many others across the Atlantic, was deeply impressed. Like Canadian truckers on steroids, these supposed hayseeds gave the world a lesson in determination, ingenuity, courage, and organizational skill beyond the wildest dreams of the appalling bureaucratic yahoos who lord over them and seek to drive them to extinction. Rumors of French President Emmanuel Macron avoiding Paris hinted on possible lasting effects for the better.

In their protests, the farmers also displayed several of the highest of human character traits, including an admirable level of restraint against violence, and even a wicked sense of humor. It was inspiring and hilarious all at once. Watching them block roadways to major cities for weeks, simply “off-roading” in their tractors when confronted by the so-called authorities, was awesome. 

When the farmers sprayed tons and tons of manure on various government buildings (talk about gilding the lily!) two questions entered my mind.

My first question, borne in part out of sympathy for the poor workers who would have to clean up the mess, was: 

When scrubbing layer upon layer of bullshit off the halls of government, when does one stop?

My second question, more process-oriented, I suppose, was:

What permanent change will come from all this?

The subsequent actions of the French National Assembly on Valentine’s Day answered my questions. 

To my first question, the answer is: never stop scrubbing.

To my second question, the answer is: nothing.

On February 14, the French National Assembly passed article 223-1-2 du code pénal. Contained therein, in Article 4 of that law, Robert Kogon writes:

Article 4 introduces a new crime into the French penal code: incitation to abandon or refrain from medical treatment or to adopt a would-be treatment, if, “in the current state of medical knowledge”, doing so “clearly” may cause harm to the person or persons in question. This crime is made punishable by one year in prison and a fine of €30,000 (£26,000) or, if the “incitation” has effect, i.e. the medical advice is followed, three years in prison and a fine of €45,000 (£39,000).

Kogon notes that this must pass the French Senate to become law. Still, it is an extremely ominous piece of legislation that clearly criminalizes medical dissent. 

In effect, this is an extreme gag order on physicians, other health care personnel, and indeed anyone who dares speak out against official medical orthodoxy. In terrifyingly broad wording, it criminalizes – with hard time and crippling fines – advising against the received medical wisdom, even if the advice is not followed. 

It does not take a doctor, lawyer, or medical ethicist to imagine the effect this will have on medical practice. Put simply, this law will destroy the doctor-patient relationship.

Throughout Covid, it became apparent how compliant and complicit the medical profession is to pressure from above. Doctors have been revealed to be a highly conformist bunch. This is understandable (although not excusable) given the nature of their training, professional conditioning, and employment structures.

With this law on the books, the few non-conformists must wonder, every time they advise a patient or place an order contrary to any “official” vaccine schedule, society practice guideline, or hospital protocol, if they will be reported to the authorities, and subject to criminal conviction, prison time, and huge financial penalties.

In the wake of Covid, this legislation demonstrates a blatant, damn-the-torpedoes attitude toward medical freedom. The Macron government has apparently learned nothing from Covid, save for adapting its excesses as templates for further governmental power grabs.

In the wake of the farmer’s protests, it looks something like a test balloon. Massive, extremely well-organized protests by the farmers did reportedly win them some concessions. A rational person would think such civil unrest would also have chastened the French government from immediately attempting another outrageous assault on civil rights. Perhaps the government is just too stupid to see the connection. After all, what do farmers have to do with doctors?

Fortunately, brave activists like Annie Arnaud (@arnaud_annie26) in France and Kat Lindley (@klveritas) in the USA, among others, have brought the issue to the forefront worldwide. 

Will French physicians fight Article 4? Will ordinary Frenchmen fight it? For medical freedom, and for the doctor-patient relationship, this is a watershed case. The impact on French society will be profound and pernicious, perhaps even beyond the intentions of the wicked fools who are pushing it.

If Article 4 becomes law, the French government will have openly declared itself as totalitarian. The effects will ripple across Europe. For centuries, even long before the European Union, the fate of Europe has often been like a chain of dominoes, with France or Germany usually the first one tipped over. Can France – and Europe – be saved? Or was Burke indeed prophetic when he wrote, way back in the 1790s, that

…the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.

To those cleaning up after the farmers’ protests, I offer one simple bit of advice. Never stop scrubbing, mes amis. Never stop scrubbing.

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  • Clayton J. Baker, MD

    C.J. Baker, M.D. is an internal medicine physician with a quarter century in clinical practice. He has held numerous academic medical appointments, and his work has appeared in many journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. From 2012 to 2018 he was Clinical Associate Professor of Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the University of Rochester.

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