The older I get the more I spend time thinking about "doing the right thing." For me it isn't just a phrase or a phase, it's something I really want to be a part of my everyday life. I feel that it's an important part of who we are. I believe the challenges and experiences involved in such decisions can change us and make us better people. So isn't it interesting that both a television program and a magazine article about this very thing would present themselves at just this moment?
I was watching an episode of Law & Order today, an episode where a young man was a witness in a murder trial. The witness wanted to help but in doing so, he would incriminate himself of bookmaking charges in the Bronx, which was the job he was headed home from when he witnessed the defendant in the area of the murder. The feds wanted the witness in a trial against the bookie he worked for but wouldn't give him immunity so he could be a witness in the murder case. The witness's lawyer recommended he invoke the 5th when the defendant's attorney, in an effort to establish lack of credibility, questioned the witness about his involvement in bookmaking. Just before the case was about to be lost, the ADA convinced the witness to testify and not invoke the 5th for if he did, there was a very good possibility the defendant would walk. The witness was disturbed that all of the fear he had endured and all the testimony he had given would be for nothing because invoking his 5th would result in his identification of the defendant to be thrown out and a murderer allowed to go free.
Eventually the witness disregarded his attorney and chose to testify in full and tell the court about his work for the bookie, thus establishing he was truthful and credible. Subsequently the defendant was convicted for murder. On a sidenote, the Bronx DA dropped the charges against the witness. This witness, a newlywed with his whole life ahead of him, disregarded his own well-being put his own freedom in jeopardy by doing the right thing--taking a murderer off the street. Though this was just a television show, we know this does happen.
This morning I was reading an article in Reader's Digest in which doctors who had made mistakes in the past which cost or nearly cost lives, came forward to talk about the need for changes in the profession to keep the mistakes from happening at such an alarming rate. One of the stories was by a nurse who many years ago, witnessed a patient die in the ER under terrible circumstances. The patient had a possible bowel obstruction and the nurse called the surgeon at home that Sunday afternoon several times and he refused to come in, stating surgery could wait till morning. All the nurse could do was try and calm the patient. Hours later the patient was dead. The nurse stated in her story that nobody ever knew what killed the woman because no autopsy was ordered. The nurse wanted to file a report with her nurse supervisor but she was afraid of the repercussions. She said nurses couldn't be fired but their lives could be made a living hell at the hospital, being treated badly and even getting the hated graveyard shift.
The nurse's story got me to thinking. Did she do the right thing? In my eyes, no. But when you're trying to protect your job, your livelihood and possibly your family's financial well-being, you do what you have to do right? But does that take precedence over reporting an incident that may have caused someone's death, especially knowing that the doctor may probably not face any sanctions for it? I am not questioning the nurse's integrity because I am not in her shoes. Sometimes a person has to choose what's best for them first. But at what cost? And who is to say that taking care of one's own self and one's family first isn't the tougher choice? The right choice? Maybe the right choice is in the eye of the beholder?
We have all faced having to make tough choices, in fact we likely face them nearly every day. I know I have struggled with it many times in my life. We want to do the right thing but sometimes we're afraid to because of what it might do to us. It doesn't make us bad people, it just makes us human. And ultimately, many times the right choice is the toughest choice of all.