Tag Archives: medicine

On Medical Racism

Dr. John Hoberman discusses racial bias in the practice of medicine and medical education
By John Carranza

How has the Western legacy that divides human beings into distinct racial categories affected the practice of medicine in the U.S.? Today’s secular classification of race is grounded in the study of human anatomy. In the late 19th-century, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a professor of medicine, measured a variety of human skulls, from which he ascertained five racial classifications: Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian, and American. The simultaneous colonization of the Americas, driving and driven by these racial classifications, solidified the privileging of white colonists over colonized populations, engendering a racial folklore of white superiority that has been handed down through generations.

Blumenbach’s 1795 Example of Human “Varieties”

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Contested Definitions of Healing and Medicine

J. Brent Crosson discusses how colonial government has shaped definitions of religion, science, and spirituality
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

What is the difference between religion, science, and superstition? How a society or nation defines what constitutes religion has important legal implications. If the state considers a set of spiritual practice to constitute a religion, those practices will be protected under freedom of religion laws; without those protections, spiritual practices are vulnerable to becoming criminalized. Practitioners of outlawed religions may be compelled to redefine their practices in order to remain on the right side of the law, and spiritual groups that are not considered official religions under the governmental definitions will not be able to claim the financial and legal benefits that official religious organizations are often granted. Religious practices, however, often challenge the binaries that serve as the very basis for the classification of religions as legal entities—binaries, for example, between spirituality and science or spirituality and superstition. In contemporary Trinidad, efforts to define the problem-solving practices that together are known as Obeah illustrate some of the many challenges of distinguishing and defining religious practices from other spiritual activities.

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The Sanitization of Death and Dying

Alan Friedman, Ph.D. and Craig Hurwitz, MD advocate for palliative care in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley
Death-bed scene, figures crowd around a dying person's bed in grief while final rites are being read. Stipple engraving by N. Schiavonetti, 1812, after R. Westall.
Death-bed scene, figures crowd around a dying person’s bed in grief while final rites are being read. Stipple engraving by N. Schiavonetti, 1812, after R. Westall.

How have medical advances over the long 20th century altered the ways western cultures represent illness, death, and dying? Before the turn of the 20th century, people living in North America and Britain commonly confronted death in their own homes. The bed was often the site not only of conception and birth but of death as well. The dead and dying were familiar, commonplace, and domestic, and, consequently, the practices and rituals associated with death and dying were typically supervised by women, who commanded the domestic sphere. Yet rapidly-changing advances in science and medicine over the course of the 20th century have dramatically altered our experiences and perception of death. Geoffrey Gorer argues in his essay, “The Pornography of Death,” that death has replaced sex as the ultimate taboo in the United States and the United Kingdom; it has become sanitized and discrete from our everyday lives. Medical doctors who were once mostly helpless at best or harmful at worst to the sick, have become, with medical advances, newly able to intervene in illness and promote healing. Continue reading The Sanitization of Death and Dying

Excerpt from “What the Body Told” by Rafael Campo

Not long ago, I studied medicine.
It was terrible, what the body told.
I’d look inside another person’s mouth,
And see the desolation of the world.
I’d see his genitals and think of sin.
Excerpt from “What the Body Told” by Rafael Campo, poet, essayist, and physician. Dr. Campo will deliver a poetry reading on April 21st at 12pm at the Blanton Museum of Art, sponsored by the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies, with support from the Humanities Institute. See our calendar on the left sidebar for more information.