First, do no harm

Why not require all public officials to pledge a 'first, do no harm' standard to decision-making?

"First, do no harm" is the medical premise that has guided physicians over the millennia. It has also inspired medical scientists to explore ever safer ways to remedy the sick and infirm. Where doctors once bled the sick and amputated to treat bullet wounds, they now utilize antibiotics, genetic testing and high-tech surgeries to restore people to optimal health.

Imagine how the same standard would work in government and politics. For one thing, there would be no lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan. No official would have diverted Flint's water supply from Detroit to the Flint River until the impact of potentially corrosive pipes had been thoroughly tested. No children would have suffered brain damage in the sacred cause of cutting taxes. Such thinking would never have crossed any official's mind, especially that of Gov. Rick Snyder, who has now pledged $28 million to address the crisis in Flint ("The lessons of Flint," Jan. 23).

Closer to home, the families living downwind of the Crane and Wagner coal-fired power plants in Maryland would not be facing another summer of breathing poisonous nitrogen oxides and sulphor dioxide on hot summer days if "do no harm" were Maryland leadership's operating principle. Instead, these vulnerable citizens will have to contend with asthma, emphysema, and other conditions directly attributable to nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide because they were not protected by a regulation that would prohibit coal-fired power plants from polluting the air they and their children breath.

If "do no harm" were the operating principle in Maryland politics, Gov. Larry Hogan would have prioritized a solution that addressed the health needs of its citizens rather than allowing the plant owners to "average" their emissions over the totality of their holdings. After all, would averaging the healthy water drunk in Detroit and the contaminated water consumed in Flint absolve Michigan's leadership of the harm done to its citizens?

Instead of waiting for the next catastrophe or preventable health crisis, doesn't it make sense to incorporate "First, do not harm" into the laws and regulations of our great state?

Joe Garonzik, Baltimore

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