Choose Life


Leonard Zwelling

         We are in the Days of Awe.

         Jews around the world have just concluded the celebration of
our New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and are preparing for the start of Yom Kippur, the
solemnest day of the year on Friday evening. This is the Day of Atonement, a
fast day. We Jews must come to terms with what we did the previous year and
make peace with our misdeeds and, more importantly, with the fellow humans
harmed by our actions and words. Getting square with God is important. Getting square
with your fellow man is more so.

         Unlike Christianity, Judaism is not a religion of faith and
forgiveness. It is a religion of law. The underpinnings of Judaism are much
closer to those described by comedian Lewis Black. It is what was needed when our
early leaders realized we as a species were three hairs away from a baboon.
There are 613 proscribed commandments that once a Jew follows them all in 24
hours, the Messiah will come. And you all know we are still waiting. Thus, we
all have a lot of work to do next weekend, cleaning up last year’s mess and
dedicating ourselves to doing better.

         This is a yearly ritual for us. Whether the High Holidays
come “late” or “early,” we worship as a people and are always reminded of our
bond to Abraham as the story of the Binding of Isaac took center stage Thursday
and rabbis around the world tried to find something new to say about a tale
that is one of the centerpieces of Judaism and in fact Christianity as well for
at that moment on Mount Moriah, God cut the deal that led to all that follows.
One man agreed to give up his most precious possession, his son, to follow the
word of God. For that, we have all been granted a chance. But only a chance.

         On Yom Kippur there is another reading from the other end of
the Torah, that is worthy of consideration. To me, it is the most important
part of the Bible after the ones that dedicate us to God. It is the part that
dedicates us to life. It is also the part that says beyond any doubt that we
are creatures of free will:

         “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses
against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

      This is our job. We
must choose life. The forces of nature, God, the Lord gave us this choice, but
there is no guarantee.

      I have spent the last
two weeks dwelling on this notion as the trial rolled out downtown.

      I was not upset with
the lurid details of Dr. Blumenschein’s behavior. He’s a human with frailties
like we all have and he gave in to some of them.

      I was not upset about
Evette Toney’s refusal to see what was right in front of her.

         I was not even upset about Dr. Gonzalez-Angulo’s actions for
I truly believe that she was deeply disturbed and that her defense team did her
a disservice by not appealing to the court for a guilty verdict by reason of
mental defect for surely anyone who can both care for sick patients
sympathetically as was testified to and try to harm her lover has a real
psychological defect worthy of medical attention and was probably not of her
right mind when she spiked his coffee. Frankly, either the case against her was
so strong the defense did the best it could or she overpaid her lawyers.

         What has upset me the most is the lack of action on the part
of people who I know and like and trust when they saw a fellow human in
trouble. I am speaking of Dr. Gonzalez’s colleagues at MD Anderson. Forget
about the principals. They have been so damaged by the last two years, they
will probably never recover. The jurisprudence system devised by our forefathers
worked again and it was breath taking to watch. A level headed and very sober
judge, a very ordinary looking group of 12 Houstonians and a tenacious group of
attorneys all did their jobs as they saw fit and I believe that justice was
served. Even in a Biblical world, it appears that all the evil that transpired
was answered by the forces of justice and heavenly might for Dr. Blumenschein
is damaged for his infidelity and Dr. Gonzalez may have lost all for her

         But what about all those faculty members who watched this
accident occur and did nothing? What about the others who even after an arrest
was made stayed hidden rather than speak up and tell what they knew?

         There is yet more reckoning to be done.

         For the individuals, many of whom took the witness stand and
admitted to their doing nothing and not being able to explain it, they will
have to live with that for the rest of their lives. I hope for them what I hope
for myself when I screw up like that. I hope to do better next time or as my
spiritual teacher might say, I hope they get as much out of this as they can.

         But there is one more locus worthy of attention and that is
MD Anderson itself.

         How could a world-class center of human healing harbor such
a nest of evil? How could people dedicated to alleviating human suffering cause
and amplify it? How could everyone watch as one of their colleagues flew
herself into a mountain in a storm and not turn on the external radar and the
GPS that they held in their hands?

         There can be only one answer. Fear.

were so paralyzed with fright that they might lose their jobs or their coveted
positions in the hierarchy or their money with its attendant high rents, fast
cars and premium private schools that they dare not speak up and say, “Wait a
minute, this is wrong.”

         How do I know? Because it persists to this very day. There
are major faculty figures getting rich on bad behavior, some at the highest
levels of the organization. This has been true for years. There are leaders who
know they are sitting on damaged faculty and damaged processes who stick their
heads in the sand claiming “this is not my dog.” There are prominent members of
this faculty carrying on extramarital affairs that are breaking up families and
using MD Anderson resources to travel to foreign lands and shack up with their

         This is not choosing life no matter how many people you care
for in the clinic.

         Physicians, heal thyselves. MD Anderson this is your wake up
call. It’s the tipping point. It’s that moment on Mount Moriah when you are
face to face with your God.


         Choose life and if that means some of the bums have to go,
throw ‘em out! The ram in the thicket on Mt. Moriah didn’t come out on top. The
people did.

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