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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Archbishop warns 'arrogant' surgeons
Archbishop of Canterbury
Dr George Carey says surgeons lack humility
The Archbishop of Canterbury has accused some surgeons of "lacking humility".

Dr George Carey warned that society was no longer prepared to accept arrogance from the medical profession.

He said public confidence in the medical profession had been dented by recent high profile medical scandals, including the Bristol heart babies case and the conviction of serial killer GP Harold Shipman.


The gift of humility is vital. There have been well-publicised occasions in recent times when it seems to have been lacking."

Dr George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Carey called on doctors to "exercise humility" when making life-or-death decisions.

He cited the case of Siamese twins Jodie and Mary. Doctors have been given permission to separate the twins against the will of their parents.

Dr Carey was speaking at a service to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in St Paul's Cathedral.

Top surgeons

The congregation was made up of some of the country's top surgeons.

Dr Carey said: "Surgeons work in the most demanding and pressurised situations imaginable.

Mr Barry Jackson
Mr Barry Jackson welcomed the archbishop's comments

"They operate at the frontiers of human existence, at the boundaries between life and death and at the limits of what humans know and what they can achieve.

"That is part of the reason we honour and admire them - even hold them in awe, but that makes the gift of humility all the more vital.

"And there have been well-publicised occasions in recent times when it seems to have been lacking."

He added: "At such times, public confidence can drain away and professional morale can plummet.

"There is no doubt that patients need surgeons, but surgeons undoubtedly need the trust and confidence of those they seek to serve. Recent events have made that painfully, crystal clear."

Dr Carey said openness and accountability were important.

He said: "It must be recognised that we live in a society where people are no longer prepared to doff their cap towards authority in any walk of life.

"Respect has to be earned and in many ways that is quite right.

"Anything that smacks of arrogance or high-handedness is unlikely to be productive."

Doctors in the Bristol case have been accused of going ahead with complex heart operations on babies despite knowing they had higher-than-average death rates, and of refusing to heed the warnings and concerns of other staff.

Professional response

Mr Barry Jackson, RCS president, said: "The college recognises that in the recent past there have been incidents where public confidence in the surgical profession has been diminished.

"The college therefore strongly supports the Archbishop of Canterbury in emphasising that the trust and confidence of patients is essential.

"Openness and accountability at all times are vital.

"Humility and a warm doctor/patient relationship is the essence of medical professionalism and the college promotes these attributes in every possible way."

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25 Jul 00 | Health
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