Of Current Interest

June 8, 2009 at 3:09 pm

While we are working on the next blog commentary, check out a Lancet article by Jane Macnaughton, "The Dangerous Practice of Empathy," a perspective on the art of medicine. Macnaughton argues that "true empathy derives from an experience of intersubjectivity and this cannot be achieved in the doctor-patient relationship." "It is potentially dangerous and certainly unrealistic to suggest that we can really feel what someone else is feeling. It is dangerous because outside the literary context, where we are allowed direct experience of what a fictional patient is feeling, we cannot gain direct access to what is going on in our patient’s head."

My take is that literature (and art and film), by giving access to fictional lives, prepares the mind for analogous situations and lives, so that one can imagine, however imperfectly, experiences to which one has no direct access and contemplate their significance.

Another online commentary of interest is posted at The University of Connecticut’s Advance Archive: "Prenatal testing for Down Syndrome raises ethical concerns", by Chris DeFrancesco. The commentary refers to a paper published by Peter Benn and Audrey Chapman in JAMA, May 27. They raise concerns about the potential consequences of noninvasive prenatal diagnosis, with regard to termination of pregnancy. Of course, it’s always important to read the original article, "Practical and Ethical Considerations of Noninvasive Prenatal Diagnosis", which I quote from here: " . . . noninvasive diagnosis might result in a substantially reduced prevalence [of Down Syndrome] and in the process subtly alter attitudes about the acceptability of continuing an affected pregnancy. Doing so could diminish understanding and support for affected individuals and their families and increase the stigma associated with having a genetic disorder. Moreover, noninvasive prenatal diagnostic testing for Down syndrome would be a first step toward screening for other genetic disorders and birth defects and potentially for physical and mental traits."

I call your attention also to our Regional Events section of this blog — there are many events of interest relevant to medical humanities that are posted here.

Felice Aull