Bioethics Blogs

Exemplary: The case of the farmer and the turpentine by Annemarie Mol

The case of the farmer and the turpentine

In 1976, when I was eighteen and he was eighty-four, my grandfather told me the case of the young farmer and the turpentine. By then this case was more than fifty years old. It stemmed from the time that my grandfather, Chris Mol, worked as a general practitioner in what was then a poor, sandy region of the Netherlands. When he settled there, the people and the land still looked pretty much as they had when, forty years earlier, Vincent van Gogh had been drawing and painting the local farmers. At the time, being a family practitioner meant receiving people who came to see ‘the doctor’ in his house throughout the day. His was a big house, painted a warm yellow, in the style of Vienna (where after graduating in Amsterdam my grandfather had extended his studies). Farmers regularly came for a consultation after Sunday mass, when they had already made the walk to the village centre. And, when a young boy running, or a neighbour with a bicycle, were sent to fetch him, my grandfather would go and pay house visits to the spread out farms, traveling by the motorbike that he had bought as soon as he could afford it.[1]

The case of the young farmer began with such a house visit. The doctor found the young man in bed with a fever and a nasty, infected wound in his left leg. He made a cut in the skin of the abscess, to allow for the escape of the pus bonum et laudabile: the good and praiseworthy pus.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.