Je suis Charlie

Domhnall MacAuleyDomhnall MacAuley is a CMAJ Associate Editor and a professor of primary care in Northern Ireland, UK


Driving across France yesterday, “Je suis Charlie” was everywhere. As I skirted Paris, every exit sign on the Peripherique flashed “Je suis Charlie” with instructions on how to access the city centre and where to park. Every radio programme discussed the march. Every small town and village showed their support. Just over 3.7 million people took part in Paris alone, and there were other major gatherings throughout the country in addition to widespread international support. Not everyone necessarily agreed with the content of “Charlie Hebdo” (circulation about 60 000), but they were demonstrating solidarity with the victims and in support of freedom of the press.

At a time of great grief in the aftermath of so many deaths, I hope its not insensitive to wonder if there is freedom of expression in the medical press? Of course there is, you say. But, it was prescient of Tony Delamothe to ask how medical journals explore difficult topics in his piece entitled “Don’t look away now” in the Christmas edition of the BMJ. Although he writes that “The days have long gone when the journal carefully picked its way through the events of the day trying to avoid any unpleasantness”, he wonders how future generations would judge the journal “if we avert our gaze from the medical consequences of what is happening to the occupants of the Palestine territories and to the Israelis next door”. There are many horrific wars with huge medical implications; closer to home, questions have arisen about medical involvement in torture. Should medical journals address these issues, and how would readers and the public react?

The reaction when doctors speak out, even about important medical issues, would not encourage anyone to address difficult topics. Richard Smith, a former editor of the BMJ, wrote a blog over the New Year on his choice of the best death. It was a challenging and provocative piece, but his was an important message about how we think about death. He was castigated by readers, both in the responses to his blog and in the national press, and he published a response to the criticism in a follow-up blog.

The story made waves nationally and internationally. However, such reactions dissuade doctors from asking hard questions about sensitive issues. It is difficult to challenge orthodoxy in a world where outrage is so fashionable. Although we would uphold complete freedom of the medical press, only the brave or foolish step out of line.

2 thoughts on “Je suis Charlie

  1. Dennis Kendel

    Because doctors function as purveyors of medical advice and guidance to others, I perceive that it can be more difficult for doctors to publicly comment on sensitive issues without creating a perception that they are "prescribing" what others should think on these issues. I thought Richard Smith's article was a wonderfully reflective piece, but some felt he was suggesting that (at a certain age) we should all gladly let cancer run it's course without considering any interventions other than those offering comfort. I simply read his piece as a valuable personal reflections that prompted me to think more deeply about my own preferences with respect to end-of-life care.

  2. Jessica T. Van Nostrand

    Charie Hebdo is not about free speech

    The terrorist attack in Paris was done by individuals that seem to have felt they were marginalized by society. These are the people who join cults, gangs and apparently ISIS, ISIL. I have read the Quran and I know about the history of the Muslim religion as well as the life of the Prophet Mohammed and the millions of "peace loving Muslims" that follow his words. It hurts me that people of any decent religion can find a way to radicalize it to the point of killing people, blowing up 10 year old babies, indiscriminately kill those who are not of like mind despite also being Muslims and feeling justified and righteous believing a loving God, their God, our God would bless such barbarism. I do not believe that most Muslims agree with the behavior of these extremists and like many of us, are praying to God for it to stop.
    In Medina, when Mohammed was living there with his first followers, Mohammed lived amongst Christians and Jews. At that time, no one was forced to become a Muslim but instead they were respected as "people of the book," although thought to be severely misguided. How many Christian sects think the same of other Christian sects. This is 2015, not the dark ages where "the Christians" went to Constantinople and slaughtered Muslims and then the Muslims returned the deed.
    Ordinary Muslims by nature are peaceful, it is the leaders that become corrupted by the power they have, which is no different than so many other religions. We have not forgotten about the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland for so many years. What happened to the peaceful legacies of people like Mother Teresa and Ghandi?
    May God comfort the family's of the people who were killed. Terrorism needs to end. Whether under the guise of humor or anything else, I disagree wholeheartedly that any religion should make fun of another person's religion. When humor is done to instigate and agitate unstable people who like to kill along with hurting and angering people who are not terrorists, I think that kind of humor is unnecessary and in poor taste. Did those people not remember Rushdi?
    We must learn to respect each other and our social and religious differences. We are all human beings, we are all Children of God and for those of us who may be wrong about our beliefs, please remember, God is the Judge and He will Righteously judge us all in the end, it is not our job to judge each other.
    Our only job is to love God, serve Him and treat others as we want to be treated. I am sure if a magazine or newspaper print Jesus in a disgraceful way, we would be up in arms and would not find it funny at all. Who knows how some radical Christian would react.
    Please, pray for each other and pray for peace. Pray that people who are kidnapped come home and pray that we somehow one day soon, remember that we are ALL children of God. We probably have so much rain right now because He is crying at what we do to each other.
    God bless.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *