Friday, January 25, 2008

Professional pimping

Last night, I caught a rerun of ANC's Shop Talk, where the guest was a certain architect named Isidro (Agot's brother, as it turned out). He was being interviewed by Pinky Webb on the topic of house-hunting, and at one point, she announced that they would be flashing photos of residences designed by Arch. Isidro. Before they could, however, he hurried to say that since it would be self-serving and unethical to show off his work, he would only be using the photos as visual aids in discussing various architectural styles of houses.

What Arch. Isidro said reminded me of a conversation I had with my friends Raqs and Angge. We were in Dex's car on our way to dinner at Yuujin when we passed by a law office along Wilson St., with a lighted sign boldly declaring that the firm specializes in handling inheritance disputes. Both Atty. Chong and my best friend the law student commented that it was unethical of a law firm to advertise itself in that manner. I expressed my surprise, because I hadn't been aware that lawyers aren't allowed to promote themselves or their services. In hindsight, I surmise that's why ambulance-chasers are sneered at by people in the legal profession.

I now wonder if the same code of ethics applies to doctors, because I've heard my mom once remark that some individuals from the field of medicine are questioning the appropriateness of the huge billboards for Dr. Vicky Belo's clinics. But then if Belo's in the wrong, isn't the American Eye Center similarly culpable for those big banners on the walls of Shangri-la Plaza? I also recently saw a 2-page magazine ad for
the Gan Advanced Osseointegration Center
, which operates posh dental clinics around the metro. Perhaps private practices are exempt from observing certain provisions in their code of ethics. Another legal eagle friend, Yang, tells me that while law firms aren't considered separate entities from the individual lawyers who comprise it (and I'm assuming the same goes for accounting and architecture firms), hospitals and schools ARE; hence, the latter can advertise, but the former can't. Yet, following the same principle behind the provision from the lawyers' Code of Professional Responsibility (more info from Atty. Quimson), then ideally, shouldn't all professionals-- doctors, dentists, accountants, engineers, teachers, etc.-- be bound by the same rule? They shouldn't be advertising their services or skills, because they're not merchants selling their wares. In short, they're not pushing a product, but practicing a profession.

Which brings me now to the question, where do we draw the line between business and profession? One might argue that a lawyer or doctor's profession IS his trade, the primary source of his livelihood. Doesn't that give him the right to pimp himself?
If entrepreneurs can profit from brandishing their products to the public, then why can't professionals do the same for their services? A man's got to make a living, after all, and from a capitalist perspective, I understand and sympathize. But there really is something inherently distasteful about professionals promoting themselves like grubby salesmen delivering desperate pitches, regardless of whether it's a firm, a group of private practitioners, an independent clinic, or a hospital. And to me, worst of all are schools which resort to newspaper and TV ads and billboards to boost their enrollment count. No matter how they defend it, I cannot accept that education is a commercial enterprise that can be hawked like a pack of cigarettes. It cheapens the value of education, and degrades the reputation of what is first and foremost an academic institution.

And ultimately, that is why I lean more towards believing that professionals-- of any field-- shouldn't try to sell themselves. It demeans the integrity of their profession, and reduces them to nothing more than common hacks and whores. They should leave the prostitution to greedy businesspeople like us.


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