Bioethics Discussion Blog: Satire of Doctors and Medicine: An Appropriate Therapeutic Potion?

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Satire of Doctors and Medicine: An Appropriate Therapeutic Potion?

I think that the medical profession is deserving of satire. Doctors are looked to for help with personal illness. Any personal illness is loaded with uncertainty even if it is more or less trivial. "Can I get over this cough to go the the concert tomorrow?" "Does this runny nose mean I am going to have a permanent allergy?" "What does this cough and runny nose mean? Do I have pneumonia?" And with these concerns and even more deadly questions including those regarding death itself, we go to the doctor for that help we need. But the doctor is still a mysterious entity even and perhaps even moreso in this age of consumerism. Consumers no long take the physician for granted as they did over 50 years ago. Do we all know who can become a doctor? What does it take to become a doctor? Do doctors follow any rules? Do they have ethics? What are the ethics? Are they trained for "bedside manner"? How do they make their money? Do they order things or schedule repeat visits to make more money? What is the doctor thinking about when the doctor asks those personal questions or examines me? Are they interested in me or some other interest? ..and so on.

Satire (the use of ridicule, sarcasm, irony, etc. to expose, attack, or deride vices, follies, etc.) is a way to nervously express the uncertainties one faces when confronted with a personal illness and their personal physician. I have found a great article on medical satire in the British Medical Journal 1994;309:1714-1718 (24 December)titled "Dr Doubledose: a taste of one's own medicine" by Roy Porter. (Note: the link to the full article may be available only to those who subscribe or who have institutional library permission.)

As an example, from the article, of the concerns of those in the 18th century when "doctors were taunted with caring only for their fees" is the satiric verse of 1714 by Bernard Mandeville, himself a practitioner within "The Fable of the Bees".

"Physicians valued Fame and Wealth
Above the drooping Patient's Health,
Or their own Skill: The greatest Part
Study'd, instead of Rules of Art,
Gave pensive Looks, and dull Behaviour;
To gain th' Apothecary's Favour,
The Praise of Mid-wives, Priests and all,
That served at Birth, or Funeral."

Another example of satire of doctors is in the "The New Yorker Book of Doctor *(*and psychiatrist) Cartoons" published by Alfred A. Knopf 2003. Actually, a number of the cartoons are literally a satire of patients since I guess as patients we also deserve a bit of mockery. What has all of this got to do with medical ethics? I think satire also reflects the ethical misbehavior of physicians or the misinformation about the ethics of the profession as received by patients. In either case, there is a need for improvement. In conclusion, it may be that writing and reading satire of doctors and medicine provides us all with a therapeutic potion for what concerns ails us when we get sick. What do you think? ..Maurice.

4 Comments:

At Saturday, May 07, 2005 7:26:00 AM, Blogger Dave Schuler said...

One of the greatest: Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid. Patients are dealt with, as well.

 
At Saturday, May 07, 2005 2:16:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

I agree. I am trying to get permission from the author of an adaptation of the "Invalid" to post some amusing excerpts. ..Maurice.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2005 5:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One can find various satires on doctors from different literary periods, going at least as far back as Chaucer in accessible English. Other good ones include both "The Hypochondriac" and "The Doctor in Spite of Himself" by Moliere, who apparently hated doctors, much satire on doctors in
Trollope's Barchester novels, and
G.B. Shaw's "The Doctor's Dilemma"
(don't skip the preface). Evelyn Waugh's prison doctor in "Decline and Fall" and several medical characters in Graham Greene's novels bring some black humor to bear on corruption in medicine.

I have a brief conference text about satire on the professions (teachers and clergy as well) which I could provide if you are interested and I can negotiate transmission by computer. It's on disk and not set up to be forwarded in a single step.

wcashore@wihri.org

 
At Monday, May 09, 2005 5:57:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

I have put up today 5-9-05 an excerpt of the English adaptation of Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid" on this blog (with permission of Timothy Mooney, the adaptor). I would be most interested in having wcashore@wihri.org write some philosophical musings as to the reason or need for satirical material to be written for the professions and medicine in particular. Other visitors can write too. I will put them up as a regular post. ..Maurice.

 

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