I received a puzzling email from a doctor last week. It was headed ‘Climate Change’ and warned: ‘Your paps needs a dementia screening soon.’ Because of climate change?
Not exactly. Juergen Messner — that was the sender’s name — was referring to an interview my father Nigel Lawson had just given to the BBC, in which he said there had been no increase in ‘extreme weather events’ and that we should stop panicking about climate change.
Dr Messner, a registrar in trauma and orthopaedic surgery at an NHS teaching facility in Yorkshire, seemed to think my 85-year-old father’s opinions indicated that he was losing his mind to dementia.
He isn’t, as it happens — but I emailed Dr Messner to ask if, as a bone rather than a brain specialist, he was qualified to diagnose dementia. He replied with the garbled: ‘Assessing mental capacity is part of most clinical doctors.’
I emailed back that surely any doctor with respect for the proprieties of his profession does not give anyone a diagnosis of a potentially terminal condition in one of their relatives without personally having responsibility for the patient — Dr Messner has never met my father. I added that I would consult the General Medical Council to check if I was right.
Dr Messner responded by asserting his rights to freedom of speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, followed by what some would term ‘a religious profanity’.
Actually, he has a good point about freedom of speech — and it covers abuse (which basically is what Dr Messner’s original email was). But it is a little spooky when a doctor in this country regards dissent from establishment views on the effects of climate change as evidence of mental incapacity.
Totalitarian regimes in the past — notably the Soviet Union — often treated dissent as a form of mental illness. Such dissidents would be consigned to psychiatric units, where they were drugged by doctors compliant with the prevailing political orthodoxy.
I would advise elderly patients at Dr Messner’s orthopaedic clinic not to engage him in discussions about climate change. They may get a diagnosis they hadn’t bargained for.