Hi. This is Michael H. Cohen, President and Founding Attorney of Cohen Healthcare Law Group.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Last night, I was privileged to see the opening scenes from the film about Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
I was a little late for the Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood wave, however, I was really pleased to see the movie, it touched a deep cord in me. The messages that Fred Rogers presented are deceptively simple, and yet those very same messages are at the heart of why I devoted myself to the health and wellness industry.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood and you can see the beautiful sun, and the trees, and the light that’s shining; the beauty of nature. And the incredible calm with which Mr. Rogers delivered every message, the peace in his heart, the peace and calm in his voice, the cadence, the rich tones, the desire to make a meaningful connection with everyone.
I listened to some of the Q&A and some videos about the movie.
He was asked “How many children he had influenced over the course of his career?”
And his response was utterly disarming and magnetic and compelling.
He said: “It didn’t matter the number of children, if we could make even one connection with a human being, when we’re present, especially with a child, how important is that?”
He said that he considered the ground between the person transmitting a message and the person receiving the message—even through a T.V, as holy ground.
And he said that becoming the best possible receiver of messages was an act of holy grace, required grace, summoned the best of him.
Promoting Health & Wellness at Every Level of Being
These plain and yet intricately beautiful statements, from Fred Rogers, inspired me and they remind me to share that this is why I do what I do.
We all do what we do for a reason. The reason that health and wellness is so important is because it focuses on the total human being.
Of course, physical health and vitality are absolutely precious. Everybody wants to be healthy, it’s the ultimate gift. And we can all become more healthy and more fit, and for that, we have exercise, we have water, we have different healing traditions; we have a lot at our command. And we have modern medicine as well.
In addition, when you look to the WHO, the World Health Organization definition of health, it includes in addition to physical health; mental health, emotional health, environmental health, spiritual health; all of these aspects of what make us a full human being. So if I’m going to be a healthcare lawyer, or a healthcare and FDA lawyer, then I’m committed to businesses and practices that promote health and wellness, at every level, every dimension of being.
In my career as an academic and legal scholar, lawyer, law school professor, then a medical school professor, I wrote books, I wrote articles for law journals and medical journals on the ultimate dimensions of health: physical, mental, emotional, environmental and spiritual, one might even say, the moral dimension of health, and how the laws could be improved and transformed to support human transformation.
I wrote about how our preoccupation with healthcare fraud drives us to concern for the darker corners of human nature, and it’s entirely appropriate that law regulate the darker corners of human nature. Yet at the same point, we must strive for the light. We need a legal and regulatory system that also accommodates the highest in human potential.
Using Law to Support Human Transformation
In my book, Future Medicine, I looked at the hierarchy of needs proposed by psychologist Abraham Maslow, as a model for how law could ascend towards the highest, and promoting the highest, in human nature.
That we should seek, not only to prevent and curb fraudulent, dark, deviant and dangerous activity, yet also to promote the same values that Fred Rogers was promoting in all of his programs.
He regarded the T.V. as his ministry and, in the same way, I happen to be, also, an ordained Interfaith Minister.
Being a lawyer has been my ministry. That might sound odd to people who regard law as anything but ministry, as something in fact very far from it, as preoccupied and consumed with rules and regulations and penalties, and all of these dark corners of regulating human behavior.
But law truly is a noble profession, and healthcare and FDA law are noble pursuits.
The Spiritual Dimension of Healthcare Law
Let me draw a couple more parallels.
I want to say, also, that from a spiritual vantage point, I had a dream and it was about Fred Rogers.
In my dream his name wasn’t actually Fred.
Fred was a pseudonym: his real name was Reuven.
I thought: “Reuven? Reuven, that’s interesting. Okay. Maybe he’s Jewish? He’s not, he’s Presbyterian or Episcopalian, whatever he was. So why Reuven?”
And it was Reuven, not Reuben. It was the Hebrew pronunciation.
And then, it dawned on me; in Hebrew, Ruven is R-E-U-V-E-N.
The Hebrew meaning of the name is: “See your son!”
Every day that I see my son, I’m reminded of all the things that I cherish, everything that Fred Rogers talked about: seeing clearly, being present, being present in the moment, allowing for transformation, being a humble receiver, being a humble servant. So that was the meaning of the dream.
One of the things that I got out of the movie is that Fred Rogers saw television, modern television, as it was back in the 60s, and even more so today, as an instrument of materialism. He said that T.V. was quick to make children into consumers: “as long as they buy something,” as long as they hurry up and go buy something. Those were the messages from television.
And he also said that T.V. was an emblem of violence, that it promoted violence.
I can see, even with my young son, how cartoons geared to toddlers; they contain so much of the language of violence within them. A lot of it is slapstick, it’s getting bashed and getting banged and getting bruised and getting beaten.
He already talks about things that I wish were not in his lexicon.
They are in his lexicon and I can no more shelter him from them than the Buddhist father could shelter the Buddha from the four noble truths: especially from the first; from the fact that there’s suffering, that there’s old age, that there’s birth and there’s death, that people get sick; that this our reality.
At the same time, while mindful of these realities, the Buddha was able to transcend them to be the one who was awakened.
Again, Rogers used the medium to promote a holy message and similarly I believe that, as a healthcare lawyer, as an FDA lawyer, as a business owner, these are values that I can promote.
All of Humanity as a Neighborhood
Ultimately, the message of Mr. Rogers, had to do, in a very playful way, with the evolution of humanity and, clearly, that’s a theme that I embrace.
He really was emblematic of the Christ consciousness; you get that from him, you get that from his heart.
I would aspire to be more and more like that, in my own conduct, and the way that I am present with others.
The biopic movie is described as a “tearjerker,”
As a role model, he presented the option to have tears of love
Ultimately his message was that Christ-like message of “Love your neighbor,” “Listen to a child,” and “Love yourself.” Loving yourself if a huge part of it.
From the perspective of “What is healthcare law ultimately about,” to me, there is that spiritual message of finding that place where we are whole; health is about wholeness; creating structures and systems and rules that can accommodate the highest dimensions of health and happiness, that can lead to that, that can support that.
Again, it’s seeing not only the worst features of ourselves but, also, the best features of ourselves.
The Legal Rules at Play
Licensing laws determine who gets licensed and why, and how, and what they can do as license professionals.
Malpractice rules determine when practitioners that are negligent, that injure people, will pay the price.
Healthcare fraud aims are avert, and deter, and punish, wrongful behavior that involves takings.
FDA law is there to protect consumers from products that make claims that inconsistent with the product classification and that go way beyond what the product should do, given how it’s regulated.
There’s a whole tier of regulation, from dietary supplements, to medical devices, to cosmetics, to drugs.
FTC law is there to prevent and deter misleading and deceptive advertising.
All of these rules are there, with the ‘thou shalt nots’ and the ‘thou shalts’. It’s a complex web and it takes a lot of sophistication to navigate that.
At the heart of it is, you, the practitioner who has worked hard to earn their degree, their credentials, to learn a craft; or the business with the mighty idea to spread a mighty product, a mighty package, a mighty offering. On the other side, there’s the patient who’s trusting, or the client or customer who needs your help.
Michael H. Cohen has pioneered the field of legal issues in integrative health. He served as Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Adjunct faculty at Harvard School of […]
That’s what we do at the Cohen Healthcare Law Group. We provide legal strategies and solutions to businesses and practices that accelerate health and wellness. Those are our clients.
I’m so grateful that I was put on this path. I’m so grateful that we’re able to help people just like you, and we look forward to many more years of service.