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Should We Just Let Doctors and Legislators Do Their Jobs?

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doctors-politicians-jobs.jpeg Photo: Newbirth35/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Having just recovered from a nasty bout of the flu, I have spent altogether too much time watching television, and thanks to the wonders of TIVO, a type of television I rarely watch otherwise: commercials. I learned some important lessons as a result of this experience. Apparently I would be happier, healthier, and far more productive if I simply started taking more prescription medication. Many of these medications have potentially terrifying side-effects, but I assume that there must be other medications for those as well. In sum, all I need to do is to ask my doctor, and then I will quickly be on the road to being a happier, healthier me.

This kind of patient-consumer choice about my medical care got me thinking about our political representatives. If pharmaceutical companies are to suggesting that I ask (and presumably to forcefully ask) my health care professional about my need for various prescription drugs, then what is to prevent me from directing my government representatives about my need for various programs, services, and tax increases?

In both cases am I simply being a smart consumer? An informed advocate for myself?

In the case of medical care I am a firm believer in asking questions, educating yourself, and being your own advocate. Should the same be true in the case of political representation? It's my representative's job to make decisions for the public good, and they often use my money (in the form of taxes and fees) to do that. It seems the same set of directives -- to inquire, educate, and advocate -- would also be useful to employ in the political arena.

But in both cases the patient or constituent may want to recognize that at a certain point it is beneficial for all involved to respect the expertise of the health care provider or political representative. We shouldn't try to bully doctors into giving us prescriptions for medications we don't need simply because the people on the commercials just look so darn happy. Similarly, we should let our representatives do their jobs, acknowledging that their job is to legislate for the best interests of their constituents, and our job is to advocate for our best interests and determine whether or not they have done so effectively. And in general we certainly shouldn't bypass our representatives, enacting legislation through the initiative process (legislation which we think will make us happier, but too often has unintended side effects). Sometimes the solution is worse than the ailment.

As patients and constituents we must always balance the need to be alert and informed with the need to allow those with expertise to do their jobs.

As we embark on the new year I encourage all of you to review the legislation proposed and passed by your representatives. Examine their other political activities. Determine for yourself whether they are doing their jobs by serving you.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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