Freedom of Expression for Students of Dentistry?

A letter to the editor, The Globe and Mail, January 12, from Pamela Pastachak, Niagara Falls, Ont.

Here we are in Canada trying to figure out how harshly can we punish a few immature men for offensive words on a website. Some people were “hurt” by them. Then Paris happened, and now I am starting to get whiplash looking from one side to the other trying to figure out why words hurt some of the time and why “freedom of expression no matter how offensive” is a right worth dying for.

For some, the wannabe dentists have erred so enormously that wiping out their planned careers and futures is barely enough. At the same time we weep for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, who were just expressing their right of freedom of expression while publishing jeers and taunts at any target they wished.

Which is it? Do we ignore it when people say offensive things to us? Should we pick up Kalashnikovs or (as in Canada) destroy their futures? Or grow up and define ourselves by our actions and lives, not by what others say about us?

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11 responses to “Freedom of Expression for Students of Dentistry?

  1. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
    Right?

  2. I knew nothing about the Canada students dentists until I saw this article. So I had a look at some of the reports.
    If correct, a group of trainee dentists got together and on a site open to the public posted some quite evil, sexually violent comments about women colleagues.
    If this is an accurate reflection of the psychological state of these dental students then the authorities have no option but to take steps to ensure that they never get endorsed to practice on members of the public.
    This is not about freedom of speech. These have proved themselves totally unfit to have a position of trust – particular one in which patients would be helpless in a dentist’s chair.

  3. David Schatzky

    It appears that both “let the punishment fit the crime” and “rehabilitation” are forgotten principles. Surely a combination of obligatory participation in a sensitivity training program, a course of therapy, an apology and community service would be much more appropriate than not allowing them to be dentists. People who make serious mistakes and show collective bad judgement need to take responsibility for their thoughtless and harmful actions and must commit to behave better from now on. How does it help society (or them) to take away their professional future? That would result in there being two sets of victims, those whom they hurt and the perpetrators, young men who can be rehabilitated and go on to live honourable lives.

  4. This is over the top. The same people screaming that they never hold a drill are probably wearing Je Suis Charlie buttons. What they did was childish and dumb. Do you think they meant what they said? It was a joke, like the covers of Charlie Hebdo.
    Nervous about being in their chair? Get a grip.

  5. Sure putting down women is “just a joke”. No of course, no one means sexually abusive put downs – just boys being boys. They are just for fun! Really get over it… No it is not a minor foible, no it is not excusable. The problem is it is too late – mild reprimands and “sensitivity training” would be the means by which they evade any responsibility for what they have done. But carry on gentlemen.

  6. @P.Swift: Yesterday the Pope said that if a friend insults his mother, he would punch him in the nose, and His Holiness described that as “a natural response”. If even the leader of the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t “get it”, then surely we must allow for the reality that young men not steeped in ethical thought need education, training and consciousness raising, more than punishment, in order to get along civilly in society. Yes, those students are dead wrong, but by now they can only be frighteningly aware of that, and unless they’re sociopaths, they won’t offend again. I’m not sure who will tell the Pope, though, that he’s off the rails…

  7. David — I am with the pope and actually think he is one of the few that really gets it – in this, and also, within the context of his remark, respecting others sincere religious beliefs – if someone insulted/denigrated a person you respect, and know should be respected – well then, like the pope, I would bop the insulter in the nose too. That is, frankly, what I wish someone had done to the dental students. The pope is right, the university powers are wrong, the dental students are fools and the only sensible revenge ( for women, anyway) is to boycott any of them who go on to practice. And as an aside – how did young men “not steeped in ethical thought” manage to get into dental school? They never read a book? never participated in any discussion of motive, never had a moment to reflect on what is simple right or wrong or decent? And these are people we want to sit back in a chair for, let them use their anesthesia and drills… – no, don’t think so.

  8. (and another aside) the young men going off to fight in Syria — their communities, mosques, families, the police, more and more are being urged to monitor them, listen, help, guide – to provide the guidance and ethical understanding that may prevent them from making the choices they have – guidance the privileged students above really should not need. If they do – what does that say about modern Canadian norms and culture?

  9. David Schatzky

    P.S.: The difference in our views is that you appear to believe that we should be governed by our instinctual response to hurt and insult.
    I believe people need be more sensitive about what they say and do, and be aware of their impact on others so that they don’t hurt other people’s feelings, but the other side of the coin is that even if we feel hurt and insulted it is better not to respond viscerally and primitively by lashing out and destroying the body or life of the person who hurt us. Civilization is maintained when we avoid violence, avoid punishing others, and instead educate, inform, encourage and help people take control of their words and actions so that nobody gets hurt and that tolerance and understanding rules the day, not retaliation and revenge. It’s bizarre that the Pope who stands for peace, brotherhood, tolerance and understanding is willing to punch someone in the nose who is intolerant or insulting. My sense is that Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu are more enlightened in this regard.

  10. David, thanks for your thoughtful responses.

    I do not actually believe in revenge – I do believe in accountability. Perhaps your approach would be successful. Certainly, reaching out, understanding and educating are better than bopping. But soon these men will be practicing dentists, and they have to be held to a high standard. One they don’t seem to be to very clear about

    (and now I promise this is my last post on the subject!)

  11. These are wonderful sentiments, but In the real world there are few options.
    These young men – I’m guessing they are 23, 24 or thereabouts – are asking the college, the professions’ controlling bodies and the licensing authorities to allow them to become dentists, with all the kudos and power that position holds.
    What happens if, after all the counselling, all the advice and all the education, one or more of them continues to hold the view that it is alright to consider women as targets for violent, sexual attack?
    Who would the community blame. The sick man/men, or the authorities that permitted the man/men to hold positions of power even though they knew of the danger?
    In today’s litigation driven society, I know who would eventually pay a very large sum in damages should that scenario play out.
    It’s harsh, but endorsing these students is too big a risk.