SIX-DECADE CAREER | MLK, Abbie Hoffman were patients -- now health
care activism is his focus
April 26, 2008
BY MIKE THOMAS Religion Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org
His patients have included Barack Obama, Martin Luther King and Mike Royko.
His politics are, and long have been, vocally and unabashedly liberal.
And now, after an immensely productive and sometimes tumultuous
six-decade career, Dr. Quentin Young, 84, is retiring from the
practice of internal medicine to focus on patient advocacy and equal
health care rights -- priorities he has pursued for decades.
On Friday, Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn threw a surprise news
conference in Young's honor at the James R. Thompson Center, attended
by 20 or so friends and colleagues.
"I have to say that despite Dr. Young's medical efforts, I'm still
alive," Quinn, one of Young's patients, joked.
Formerly president of the Chicago Board of Health and Cook County
Hospital's chief medical officer, Young was fired from the latter
post in the mid-'70s for siding with and speaking out on behalf of
residents and interns during a 15-day strike.
He also was an ally to counterculture icons. At the end of the
turbulent 1960s, Young tended to Abbie Hoffman during the renegade
hippie's Chicago Seven trial and worked with the Black Panthers on a
"Free Peoples' Medical Center."
In 1968, he challenged the now-infamous House Un-American Activities
subcommittee to ask him whether he belonged to the Communist Party.
When they did, he refused to answer. When they threatened him with
contempt of Congress, he still refused.
"My answer is that the question is an unconstitutional invasion of my
rights," Young told his interrogators. "I chastise the subcommittee
counsel for daring to ask the question."
Ray Wang, program director of the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows
Program (which is associated with Young's Health and Medicine group),
called Young a "hero" and praised his profundity. "In an era when so
many people are silent or sitting on their hands, he's always been
vocal, but in a good way," Wang said.
Afterward, Young reminisced about his colorful career.
"The high point for me were the moments I spent with [Martin Luther]
King," he said. "For reasons I can't explain, I was assigned as his
doctor. That was the good news. The bad news, he never got sick very
much. But the several times he had a cold, they called me and I took
a 15-minute house call and made it a three-hour afternoon with the master."
Young said there was "a lot of sad business" too, including violent
riots that broke out between cops during the 1968 Democratic National
Convention in Chicago. "To see such a disintegration of norms was very hard."
He also spoke of his vision for the future of health care in America.
"If you look at the timeline for really big things -- the end of
slavery, women's suffrage, pensions, social security -- they took
decades. And we're closer now [to equal health care] than ever."
So he's hopeful.
"I'm more than hopeful," Young said. "I'm optimistic."