Is There A Happily Ever After For Medical Humanities & Bioethics?

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

I attended my very first academic conference in 1997, which happened to be the Combined Meeting of the Society for Health and Human Values, American Association of Bioethics, and Society of Bioethics Consultants. I was also in Houston the next year at the very first meeting of the American Society of Bioethics & Humanities. Bioethics and Medical Humanities had married and that was their reception.

This has not been an easy marriage. Some medical humanities scholars have expressed feelings of being slighted, minimized in programs, and not always having a seat at the table. A few in bioethics have expressed concerns that the humanities scholars do not want to play with others and have their own agenda. In this marriage, the couple sleeps in separate bedrooms.

As someone with a doctorate in medical humanities and who was trained in medical anthropology (narrative phenomenology) and bioethics, I never understood why the parents seemed to bicker. From my perspective both clearly had contributions to make to the other. I have published in both bioethics and medical humanities journals as well as have presented at meetings of both. I use films, stories, and writing in my bioethics courses; and discuss issues of ethics and professionalism in my medical humanities class.

In the last few years, some in medical humanities have been in an open marriage, having their own meetings (Health Humanities conference) and linking with other like-minded organizations (MLA). Still, I did not understand why our parents fought. Was it merely a question who got top billing?

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.