Doctoring Welfare: Why ATOS must adhere to the Hippocratic Oath

By Megan Sherman. Megan is an MSc Global Politics student and student liaison officer for Momentum Southampton. As a student journalist she has written for local and national media.


 

A Stanford Sociologist recently divulged the findings of his research on how to make effective political arguments. He found the most persuasive, successful arguments reframed the argument in terms of opponents’ moral values. This approach is less polarizing, and more consensual. It finds a common ground where both parties can agree. This way, progress might be made on policy where there is usually stalemate and stagnation.

It is this consensual approach to persuasion which I am trying to emulate by asking the Government to consider making ATOS adhere to the Hippocratic Oath. The Tory Party is hardly going to be convinced to reject the logic of austerity by an appeal to their compassion. But what they can’t do is reject this motion and still lay claim to being a party that respects moral values and ancient civic traditions. So this way we may make them tacitly accept a motion that would improve the lives of people for whom the benefits assessments reforms have brought untold misery.

The idea behind my petition was simple. People who make decisions that affect the lives of the ill are usually expected to adhere to an ethical code. Although technically the Hippocratic Oath is not a requirement for UK doctors, they are nonetheless expected to abide by the principle ‘Do No Harm.’ Arguably this ought to be a requirement for all organs of state. ATOS processes directly affect the health and wellbeing of the people who are the objects of their assessment, and it is the corporate approach of reducing people to an objectified, dehumanized thing that is causing the trouble with ATOS, so the need for a more humanistic approach that respects the rights and dignity of patients has never been more acute.

Smart people will notice and say that ATOS already has a code of ethics. But ATOS writing their own code of conduct is like the accountants and banks being seconded to write tax evasions law. Corporations cannot be entrusted to uphold ethical codes by themselves. They must be subscribed to a legal code which punishes a failure to abide by strict ethical regulations. ATOS can’t audit its own ethics for the same reason NGOs can’t audit their transparency structures themselves.

It is no exaggeration to say that welfare reforms have been a death penalty for some. The campaigns of disability activist groups shine a light on the troublesome correlation between DWP assessments and suicide. Films like I, Daniel Blake make an emblem of the struggles of genuinely unwell people against a suspicious, hyper-vigilant system that fails to treat the objects of its processes with compassion and respect. Political commentators with affinity for the struggles of the disabled try to bring their concerns to the attention of mainstream opinion.

I think the time is now for Parliament to debate bringing in a code of ethics for companies who deal with our sick citizens. If a doctor mistreats a patient, she is held accountable at tribunal. If an MP damages the interests of somebody in their constituency, she is held accountable at the ballot box. Perhaps, now, it is time for ATOS to be at a tribunal, being heard for its own deficiencies, instead of punishing those it perceives in others.

Please follow this link to the petition.

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