Tag: kindness

Bioethics Blogs

Beginning Your Medical Journey: Advice for First-Year Students

By Steve Goldstein

On August 19, 2017, I offered the keynote address at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine Class of 2021 White Coat Ceremony.  It was an honor to address this class, my first as dean.  I had welcomed the students during orientation when they were absorbing a great deal—rules, responsibilities, schedules, safety, organization– and met with them during discussions of a book we all read recounting the rich, complex career of pediatrician– events when they were in a focused, serious mood.  This day, however, the student’s were with their families and excited, bolstered by well-deserved pride, and filled with the shared mission of improving the world through the practice of medicine.  Below are the thoughts I shared in my address to the class as they began their formal training as first-year medical students…

Family, friends, alumni, faculty, and staff, I welcome you to the 2017 Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony.  Class of 2021, I welcome you to the beginning of your careers in medicine.  I am delighted to be with you today.

As the students already know, the Class of 2021 is my first as dean– so, we begin this journey together.

You also know that I am a pediatrician, so you will forgive me if I continue to offer some practical guidance as I did last week– based on 40 years of experience since I sat where you are now:

Lesson one: no one is born an adult.
The corollary is this: no physician begins by being fully trained.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

The ‘Weird’ First Fortnight of the Foetus: Implications for the Abortion Debate

Guest Post: William Simkulet
Paper: The Cursed Lamp: The Problem of Spontaneous Abortion

For many people, the moral status of abortion stands or falls whether or not a human fetus is morally comparable to you or I; whether its death is a significant loss.  Many people believe human fetuses have a right to life from conception, and thus conclude that there is good reason to think induced abortion is seriously morally wrong.  Judith Jarvis Thomson challenges this belief, constructing a scenario where she believes it is morally acceptable to end the life of a person because although he has a right to life, his right to life does not give him a right to use your body.  Her example should be familiar:

Violinist:  You wake up in the hospital, surgically attached to a violinist.  Your doctor explains that last night the Society of Music Lovers kidnapped the two of you and performed the surgery.  The violinist has a serious condition that will result in his death soon unless he remains attached to your kidneys for the next 9 months (you alone are biologically compatible).

The violinist has a right to life, and surely you are free to let him remain attached to your body to save his life.  It would be a great kindness for you to do so, but Thomson says that the violinist’s right to life does not give him the right to use your body.  Anti-abortion theories that focus on the moral status of the fetus neglect to show why the fetus’s moral status – its argued for right to life – would give it a right to use the woman’s body.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

What’s a Nice Nurse like You doing in a Medical School?

Hearing the Call:  A Feature on How Physicians and Medical Educators Came to Understand their Vocation

By Anne Gill

Back in the 70’s, I called a surgeon to tell him his patient was bleeding from a cholecystectomy incision.  “When did you go to medical school?” he screamed.  “Until I say differently, that is serosanguineous fluid!”  Stung by this rebuke, I meekly added ABD’s to stanch the flow of “serosangunious fluid” and awaited the patient’s return to the OR…

I don’t remember a call to nursing.  Like most of the women in my family, my mom was a nurse and I followed in her footsteps.  Nursing came easily to me. On any given day I might debride a wound, lead a code, or place a newborn in its mamma’s arms. Which is why when I heard a call toward teaching, I was caught unaware. A friend asked me to teach her IV class while she was on leave.  That first week was agony. I bored myself droning on and on about electrolytes and fluid balance and vowed never again to subject my students to such tediousness.  I turned sodium potassium transport into a Texas two-step, and the IV pump into an alien invader.  Inking fake tattoos around the Port-a-cath and sharing humorous stories of famous flubups triggered gales of laughter that rang through the halls.  Colleagues would poke their heads in my room and ask, “Just what ARE you teaching?”   And I began to understand what Parker Palmer meant when he said, “I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy.”

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Building a House, Creating a Home

By Matthew Schreier

“There is nothing more important than a good, safe, secure home.”
~Rosalynn Carter

Food, water, shelter, education.

These facets of a healthy, safe lifestyle are seen by most of us as a basic human right.  It is in their steady presence that we are able to pursue our goals of personal growth, intellectual achievement, and career success.  For people in many parts of the world, however, it is in the acquisition these basic rights that they must focus the bulk of their energy.

For one week of this summer, six fellow medical students, one physician, one bioethicist, one firefighter, one dean, and I had the opportunity to travel down to Belize and help a family build themselves a shelter.  Estrella, the woman for whom we would be building a house, lived in a house with her son and mother that had all the components of a home: photographs, decorations, a pair of adorable dogs, and one of the strongest family bonds I have experienced.  The structure of the house itself, however, was a bit less faithful, with the foundation sinking and the floor caving in to the moisture. The shelter that this family deserved was giving out on them, so together with Hand-In-Hand Ministries, we were to come down and assist them in building a new one…

Building a house is hard work.  Building a house in a humid 106º heat tests more than a few of the body’s capabilities.  Yet whenever I sat down to my many breaks to rehydrate, catch some shade, and attempt to regain basic human function, I noticed one person who never stopped working: Estrella. 

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.

Bioethics Blogs

In The Journals – July Pt. II by Christine Sargent

Hello everyone! Please check out our roundup for the second half of the month. Also, the current issue of Hau has a symposium on Webb Keane’s Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories (2016) that may be of interest, with contributions by Cheryl Mattingly, Rita Astuti, James Laidlaw, Nicholas Harkness, C. Jason Throop, Richard Schweder, and Webb Keane himself.

Science, Technology, and Human Values

Living with Spinal Cord Stimulation: Doing Embodiment and Incorporation

Lucie Dallbert

Seen as contributing to human enhancement, implanted technologies have recently been receiving a lot of attention. However, reflections on these technologies have taken the shape of rather speculative ethical judgments on “hyped” technological devices. On the other hand, while science and technology studies and philosophy of technology have a long tradition of analyzing how technological artifacts and tools transform and (re-)configure our lives, they tend to focus on use configurations rather than the intimate relations brought about by implanted technologies. Even the cyborg has lost some of its hermeneutic power as it has been detached from its material grounds, becoming a discursive entity. In this article, I reclaim the importance of materiality and explore how people live (and learn to live) with spinal cord stimulation (SCS), which is a type of neuromodulation technology. Implanted in bodies and seemingly out of sight, this technology does not cease to matter. Embodiment and incorporation are crucial for people to live well with SCS. Embodying the neuromodulation technology entails groping processes in which gestures are central and an increased intimacy with one’s bodily materiality. Incorporating it is highly relational and entangled with the bodies of loved and distant ones, humans and nonhumans.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Richard Selzer and Ten Terrific Tales


Richard Selzer and Ten Terrific Tales

by Tony Miksanek, MD
Family Physician and Author, Raining Stethoscopes

If there were a Medical Humanities Hall of Fame, physician-writer Richard Selzer (1928-2016) would be a first-ballot selection. And likely by a unanimous vote. The diminutive doctor had a very large presence in the field. He energized the medical humanities movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s with his lectures, readings, writing workshops, commencement addresses, correspondence, personality, and kindness. But it was his writing – earthy and elegant, whimsical and wise – that masterfully mingled the world of medicine with the world of the arts and highlighted the necessity of humanity in health care.
His literary output includes more than 125 published short stories and essays, a work of nonfiction (Raising the Dead), an autobiography (Down from Troy), a novella (Knife Song Korea), and a diary (Diary). Many of his stories reflect an interest (even an infatuation) in decay and death, the beauty of the body, how illness beatifies the sick individual, the power and fallibility of doctors, and the great panacea/contagion – love.
“Writing came to me late, like a wisdom tooth,” Selzer proclaimed. Indeed, he was 40 years old when he began writing seriously. His early efforts at crafting stories dutifully occurred between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 AM. His initial focus was creating horror stories because it was an “easy” genre to handle. That fondness for the macabre and otherworldly never dissipated as he continued to utilize horror (and humor) in many tales. The majority of Selzer’s stories involve doctor-patient relationships, surgery, and suffering.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

The Enclosed Case by Elizabeth Lewis

The case that follows illustrates an ethnographic flashpoint in my work on disability. Here, I offer an account of a single morning during my first research trip in Central America. The day marked my only visit to a particularly well-known institution (or shelter) for children and adults with disabilities. The following summer, I would learn that the scenes depicted below were not necessarily representative of other shelters in the country.

Still, several years later, this particular case – this single morning – continues to shape my thinking on the making and unmaking of disability personhood in everyday life. I use it not to highlight the plight of an individual or probe the lived experience of disability in certain economic and sociopolitical contexts. Rather, I approach it as the first of several encounters that prompted me to examine my preconceptions of disability outliers – cases that originally struck me as so extreme they couldn’t possibly happen closer to home, back in the U.S. People kept in closets? Surely not. Children abandoned to live in nursing homes? Impossible. A suspicion that disability was contagious? Come on. Having spent my entire life immersed in the disability community, whether personally, as an ally, or through my research, I naively assumed that I knew better.

Yet I heard such stories again and again as I moved forward with my work on family experiences with rare and undiagnosed disabilities, those confusing puzzles of sensory, physical, and intellectual difference that do not correspond to a clear label – the bodies that fall outside of diagnostic common sense.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Wrinkles and the Paradox of Aging

Keri-Leigh Cassidy critiques how old age and dementia are depicted in the film Wrinkles.

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Wrinkles is an animated film about life in a nursing home. It offers a rare glimpse of a subject generally avoided in popular culture and film. Wrinkles follows Emilio through stages of dementia, with a focus on his relationship with his roommate Miguel who bears witness to Emilio’s decline.

The subject matter of the film is particularly welcome to me as a geriatric psychiatrist who works with patients with dementia and residents of long-term care. My main concern with Wrinkles, however, is that the film plays into many negative stereotypes with little to challenge common fears of dementia and aging. Despite a few touches of humour and an unexpected twist at the end, for me the film’s tone is decidedly depressing.

Meanwhile, I find working in long term care and with patients with dementia to be very rewarding. Contrary to the common view of dementia being “worse than death,” the vast majority of people diagnosed with dementia do not wish to commit suicide. Rather, they continue to enjoy and appreciate their lives. By the time a person with dementia needs the level of care people fear most (in Wrinkles, the upstairs floor of the nursing home) they are no longer aware of their deficits. Yet, they do continue to respond to human kindness and simple comforts – a warm embrace, tasty food or a familiar song. Music therapy can have a dramatic impact, even in late stage dementia. Here is a documentary on the subject.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Home Sweet Broken Home

A.E. Randal reflects on the care available to nursing home residents.

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“He made bail.”

I’ve grown accustomed to walking into my Mum’s room and hearing her start a conversation, well, in the middle. As a resident of a nursing home, she spends a lot of time watching the TV news. Her body has utterly failed her, but she still knows a story when she hears one. In this case, she was talking about Oscar Pistorius.

Although, for the most part, my Mum has borne the indignities of old age with good humour, one of the things she misses most is adult conversation. When your table mates in the dining hall are partially deaf, slipping into dementia, or have lost the will to communicate, a nursing home can be a lonely place.

The Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union Broken Homes report itemizes the systemic problems in long term care: the clientele is older than ever, and their medical needs are more complex, the nurse to client ratio is inadequate, holiday staffing is a nightmare, people only get one bath a week, the meals are…. wait a sec – one bath a week? That one always stops people in their tracks. It’s true, and Mum looks forward to her weekly dip. The rest of us are horrified.

I would point out that the people who care for my Mum wash her every day. It’s called “top and tailing”. These caregivers – underpaid and overworked – are the kindest, most patient people I’ve ever met. I couldn’t do their job in a million years.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Are we losing the concept of objective moral truth within the church?

I participated in two discussions in the past few weeks that have me concerned. The first was a discussion with the members of the Advisory Council that works with the Center for Ethics that I am involved with at Taylor University. We were discussing how we as Christians should live in a society that is rejecting Christian moral values more and more. One member of the group is a recent graduate who is now in graduate school, but most of us were old enough to be parents or possibly grandparents of current college students. We focused on how we could stay true to our moral convictions and communicate them to our society while showing love, grace and kindness to those with whom we disagree.

The second discussion was with about a dozen students, another professor, and myself. In light of the current presidential candidate dates, we were talking about how our moral convictions and those of candidates for political office should influence how we vote. Several students expressed the thought that disagreeing with a candidate on a significant moral issue would not be a reason to choose not to vote for that candidate. Some were saying that there are many issues and we need to decide how to balance those issues since it is rare that we can find a candidate who agrees with us on every issue. But that was not what the students whose thoughts concerned me the most were saying. They were saying that the fundamental Christian value is love and that it would be unloving to say that someone else’s moral convictions were wrong.

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.