Mennonite Health Journal

Articles on the intersection of faith and health








Sutton’s Law and MHF

MHF President’s Column by Joseph Longacher, MD

from Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2 – May 2014

What does Sutton’s Law have to do with Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship?

Among the many common experiences of American medical students is frequent reference to Sutton’s Law by their professors and other teachers, and subsequently by themselves in training those who follow. The law is named after Willie Sutton, a notorious bank robber from New York, who, when asked by a reporter, “Why do you rob banks?” replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

The law is promoted as a useful guide in clinical settings to diagnose the cause of symptoms of any kind. It suggests that the studies one might order should be those most likely to lead to the diagnosis, and since most conditions are common rather than rare, simple tests for frequently occurring diseases, rather than a search for the esoteric, are most likely to provide a correct answer. In other words, “Go where the money is.”

How does this relate to Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF)? Perhaps it is a stretch, but as those of us in any type of healthcare profession need, and look for, ways to interact with other Anabaptist Christians whose beliefs are similar to ours, we do well to adhere to Willie Sutton’s advice, at least figuratively. Where might we find “the money,” that is, the places and ways to share our convictions and problems with like-minded practitioners?

The obvious answer (not surprisingly) is Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship! MHF membership provides direct access to others who have intentionally joined together for dialogue, fellowship and support—a rich resource to guide and nurture each of us as we live out our faith.

That happens in a number of specific ways, from articles and insights found in this journal, to interaction at the local level during one of our regional meetings, to the benefits experienced in a large group setting during our Annual Gathering, such as will take place at Laurelville this June. Those experiences confirm the wisdom of Sutton’s Law as we seek out the most efficient, effective, and reliable way to meet our needs.

However, there is one problem: There is no Sutton’s Law. Willie Sutton, during subsequent interviews and in the book he wrote about his career, denied ever having made the statement upon which the putative law is based. Yet, even if he didn’t do so, the principle remains valid: We are most apt to find what we want and need in an easily accessible place with reliable resources, rather than through unusual or expensive efforts.

The story of Willie Sutton reminds us that wisdom can sometimes come in surprising ways from surprising sources. (Another famous line attributed to Sutton was that while he always used a gun to rob a bank, it was never loaded “because somebody might get hurt.”) But for the greater likelihood that Anabaptist healthcare professionals will find spiritual sustenance and encouragement in their faith, “the money” will be in the Annual Gathering time together at Laurelville, June 13-15. Please join us if you can!

About the author

Joe-Longacher-200WJoe Longacher, MD, is a past President of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship and lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  He retired at the end of 2012 from a practice in gastroenterology in Richmond, Virginia and was part of the Implementation Team that gave leadership to the formation of MHF.  Joe has also served at the conference and denominational level and was a past president of Mennonite Medical Association (MMA).   He is married to Constance (Brenneman), originally from Hesston, Kansas, and they have four children and six grandchildren.