Interview with Soha Bayoumi

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Soha Bayoumi is a Senior Lecturer in the Medicine, Science, and the Humanities Program at the Johns Hopkins University. She is presently completing two book projects, one (with Sherine Hamdy) on the work of doctors in the Egyptian uprising, and the other on the social and political roles of doctors in relation to health and justice in postcolonial Egypt. 

What is your article “Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and Medical Mobilization in Post-revolutionary Egypt” about?

This article explores the links between medical practice and expertise, on the one hand, and nationalist discourses, on the other, in the context of the 2011 Egyptian uprising and the years that followed, which witnessed a consolidation of political authoritarianism. It investigates how doctors played a significant role in countering political regimes’ acts of violence and denial. It traces the trajectory of the doctors’ mobilization in the 2011 uprising and beyond and demonstrates how the doctors drew on their professional expertise and nationalist sentiment in their struggles against a hypernationalistic military state. It contrasts activist doctors’ idea of nationalism with the state’s and shows how medicine has served as a site of awakening, conversion narratives, and building of bridges in a polarized society where the doctors were able to rely on their “neutral” expertise to present themselves as reliable witnesses, narrators, and actors.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.

I work at the intersection of the history of medicine, science and technology studies, and political theory. My work is informed by postcolonial studies, gender studies, and social justice, and centers the ways in which medical expertise is shaped by and deployed in different political contexts.

What drew you to this project?

This research is part of a book-length project that I have been working on for the good part of the last decade with Sherine Hamdy. We were both amazed and intrigued by the different roles played by doctors in the Egyptian uprising and its aftermath and felt compelled to document that episode of the Egyptian revolution and ask questions related to what motivates doctors to engage in politics, especially during such volatile political moments.  

What was one of the most interesting findings?

We were really struck by how doctors reliance on their “neutral” expertise and their attempts to efface the political in their work actually reinscribe the political in different ways, in ways that both allow doctors to either resist state violence or abet it.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

I’m currently watching the Netflix show, Mo, which is, as far as I know, the first mainstream show about a Palestinian-American to ever make it to streaming screens in the US. I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ first memoir, A Leg to Stand On, which is focused on an accident that caused him to lose the use of one of his legs and his reflections on being patient, after a long career of being a doctor. And I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah. I love Trevor Noah’s style of comedy, and I think his autobiography book, which contains a lot of comedy, is best enjoyed performed by Noah himself.

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

I think it is the idea that very few things in life are actually politically “neutral”—that what we take for granted as apolitical or technical or neutral has so many ramifications on politics, writ large. Many of the daily actions we take and the statements we make are inscribed in a political context and often function to reproduce and perpetuate that context or to subvert and change it, if we so choose.

Thank you for your time!


Other places to connect:
Website
Twitter
LinkedIn
Academia.edu

Interview With Lamia Moghnieh

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Lamia Moghnieh (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Copenhagen) is an anthropologist and mental health practitioner. Her research looks at the impact of psychiatry on understandings of self and illness in postcolonial and postconflict societies of the MENA/SWANA. She is interested in exploring the relationship between psychiatry and subject formation in the context of global mental health and patient subjectivities.

What is your article “The Broken Promise of Institutional Psychiatry: Sexuality, Women and Mental Illness in 1950s Lebanon” about?

I am an anthropologist, psychologist, and a social worker, and more recently, I am also a patient of analytical therapy. I try to let my research be informed from all of these positionalities together or provide insights from all of these places (as a researcher, practitioner and from the more intimate and vulnerable position of being a patient). I work in the field of mental health, and I do research on the histories and ethnographies of psychiatry, tracing various discourses on mental health from the Middle East and North Africa/ Southwest Asia and North Africa). I am currently writing my book manuscript provisionally entitled “Psychiatric Afterlives: Narrating Illness, Gender and Violence in Lebanon”. The book builds on multi-disciplinary frameworks from medical humanities to examine the role of psychiatric expertise in shaping patient and social imaginaries of madness and violence in Lebanon.

What drew you to this project?

I always wanted to be a clinical psychologist until I enrolled in the MAPSS program (Masters’ in the Social Sciences) at the university of Chicago. There, I was introduced to the various historical, philosophical and political critiques of psychology and I was drawn to medical anthropology. After I finished my PhD, which focused on trauma, humanitarianism and the politics of suffering in Lebanon, I was interested in learning more about the history of psychiatry in Lebanon and the region. My background and research interests are interdisciplinary. I am lucky to be in an academic position (at the upcoming research center “Culture and the Mind” head by Ana Antić at the University of Copenhagen) that welcomes and values this interdisciplinarity in the study of psy disciplines.

What was one of the most interesting findings?

One of the findings that interest me is the ways in which the family acts as an equal diagnoser of mental illness to psychiatric expertise. As shown in the article, the story of Hala invites more attention to the ways in which women (and maybe non-normative persons) become chronically institutionalized by institutional psychiatry and the family. This is not to dismiss the psychological and financial effects that mental illness might have on family members. The article rather approaches the family as a sociological unit that governs and defines normality, and is interested in the dialogue, tensions and challenges of care and normality between the family and institutional psychiatry, as shown in the story of Hala.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Roberto Bolaño’s Cowboy Graves
سارة اب وغزال “احلمي يا سيدي
هلال شومان “حزن في قلبي
Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy
Jonathan Sadowsky’s Empire of Depression: A New History

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

That psychiatry is both a form of governance and a mode of healing whose authority and reach transforms and changes over time. That patient voices and narratives are a crucial part of the history of psychiatry and of its contemporary practices. And that medical humanities, including anthropology, is a field that can offer useful and critical insights on the status of global mental health.

Other places to connect:
Website
Twitter
LinkedIn

Interview with Michael Galvin

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Dr. Michael Galvin is a Global Psychiatry Clinical Research Fellow and in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard University and the Department of Psychiatry at Boston University. Dr. Michael Galvin is a global health researcher and psychotherapist.  His primary research interests center on mental health and the role that one’s environment, culture, and belief systems play in mental illness and treatment.  In particular, his work focuses on elucidating cultural models of mental illness and exploring relationships to pathways to care, with the goal of improving cultural adaptation of mental health interventions.  

What is your article “Examining the Etiology and Treatment of Mental Illness Among Vodou Priests in Northern Haiti about?

This article is about the way that traditional healers (ougan) conceptualize and treat mental illness in rural Northern Haiti.  While the vast majority of people with mental illness seek treatment from ougan in this region – as few biomedical services exist – very little research has examined what ougan actually do when treating patients.  The article also tries to understand how mental illness is viewed from the healer’s perspective, delving into the broader Vodou cosmology which remains very influential in rural parts of Haiti.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.

My interests mostly center around mental illness and how we conceptualize it in different cultures and settings.  Historically, mental illness has always been hard for people to understand, getting wrapped up in ideas of spirit and demon possession.  Rarely have people thought it was something to treat like a broken leg or even a bacterial infection.  This is partly because there are no biomarkers to test for it thus patients recount what they are experiencing solely via self-report.  But it’s also because mental illness affects the basic ways in which people act and simply exist in the world.  When our loved ones have significant behavioral changes without physical symptoms of illness or infection it can often lead us to suspect the supernatural.

What drew you to this project?

I have been working and living in Haiti on and off since 2012 and knew I wanted to focus my dissertation research in Cap-Haïtien.  I found out about the Mental Health Center at Morne Pelé in 2018 and spent the entire summer of 2019 volunteering with them so we could get to know each other, for me to better understand what their work was like, and to start exploring different angles for my dissertation research which I conducted in the second half of 2020.  It was during the summer of 2019 that I learned about the extent to which patients held explanatory models based in Vodou and I knew that had to become a significant part of my research there.  I’m currently the director of the Mental Health Center at Morne Pelé’s new Research Laboratory so it’s very exciting to continue to collaborate together.

What was one of the most interesting findings?

One of the most interesting findings was this treatment called fiksyon that almost all the healers I interviewed used.  Barely anything has been written about these concoctions so this was really one of the first times they’ve been explored.  Fiksyon are different liquids – usually rum mixed with ground plants and animals – that are kept in large unmarked semi-transparent plastic bottles.  There’s a lot of mystery surrounding fiksyon with many people saying they have mystical properties.  It would be interesting to explore more about what is actually in them and the places where they are manufactured

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

I’m reading a really interesting book that was written in the 1970s called Plagues and Peoples.  It’s a great dive into the history of pandemics over the centuries.  It’s not a hard read at all, very enjoyable and easy to understand with lots of nice anecdotes.  Apparently the findings have held up really well over the last 50 years too.

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

That religion and culture have deep impacts in the way we conceive of mental illness.  That we still know relatively little about how mental illness develops, manifests, and is best treated.  That the relationship between our minds and our bodies is exceedingly complex and there are often no easy solutions.

Thank you for your time!



Interview with Katarzyna Szmigiero

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Katarzyna Szmigiero is a graduate of the University of Łódź, Poland. She is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Literary Studies and Linguistics of the of University of Jan Kochanowski, Poland (Branch in Piotrków Trybunalski). Her research interests concentrate on medical humanities, especially cultural representations of psychiatry and gender, and genre fiction.

What is your article “We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes:” Representations of Insanity in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock about?

The article deals with the way motifs connected with psychiatry (doctors/treatment/people diagnosed with mental illness or individuals displaying disturbing behavior/attitudes to mental psychopathology) are used in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. First of all, it tries to answer the questions why the director so often presented mentally unstable characters in his works. It also looks at how Hitchcock gently questioned the assumptions about mental illnesses and its origins that were dominant in his times. Finally, it briefly mentions the legacy of Hitchcock if the cinematic portrayals of insanity are concerned.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.

I am interested in cultural representations of madness, gender studies, and popular literature.

What drew you to this project?

I have always loved Hitchcock’s films and saw Frenzy in my early teens, as it was my dad’s favourite. It was one of the most unpleasant and, simultaneously, hilarious film I have ever seen since.

What was one of the most interesting findings?

On the surface, Hitchcock appears to be following the psychoanalytic approach, especially in his American movies. However, he always undermines the official discourse on madness, proving that we are all, sometimes, a little mad and there’s nothing wrong about it.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

I am currently an avid reader of the retellings of the Medusa myth (as well as other chick lit fantasy books about antiquity).

Watch Hitchcock! Old films may seem dated, especially if you are not used to them. But his dialogues, designs, cast is often genius.

Thank you for your time!



Interview with Clare Killikelly

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Dr. Clare Killikelly is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, and Department of Psychology, University of Zurich. Dr. Kilikelly’s research group examines the clinical utility and global applicability of the new Prolonged Grief Disorder. Her research seeks to better understand the nature of suffering and distress in different communities to develop accessible and culturally informed assessments and interventions.

What is your article “The New ICD-11 Prolonged Grief Disorder Guidelines in Japan: Findings and Implications from Key Informant Interviews” about?

Symptoms of mental disorder, including grief reactions, are found to differ across cultures. There are several examples where misdiagnosis of mental disorders, treatment gaps, and reduced help seeking occurs when culturally sensitive assessments are lacking. The identification of culturally unique symptoms of grief can improve the validity of mental health assessment.

We are the first to explore PGD symptoms in Japan from the perspective of frontline health care workers. We conducted in depth key informant interviews with cultural brokers (e.g. individuals who are part of the health care system but also have lived experience of the cultural group).

We had two main aims: first to explore experiences of grief to define both normal and abnormal reactions. Secondly, we assessed the acceptability of the ICD-11 guidelines to identify areas where cultural information is lacking. This would provide a unique viewpoint that is often overlooked in larger qualitative studies.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.

I am interested in the role of culture in the presentation and treatment of mental health disorders. I believe that there may be cultural concepts that when unlocked can provide a key to better therapeutic outcomes.

After completing a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, UK, I became interested in the core cognitive processes underlying psychopathology and the development of targeted psychotherapeutic interventions. I completed a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, UK and explored the use of innovative mobile technologies to improve the acceptability and efficacy of therapeutic interventions for people with psychosis. Working as a psychologist with refugees in South London I became interested in the different cultural experiences and presentations of distress.

Currently, I have been awarded a Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) Post-Doc Mobility grant to work at the University of British Columbia to examine the relationship between grief, indicators of mental health and post migration living difficulties in refugees in Canada in comparison with Swiss, Dutch and German cultural contexts.

If you are interested in learning more about this research project, or possibly participating please check out the website.

What drew you to this project?

Prolonged grief disorder is the only mental disorder where people are expected to suffer. However, the intensity and duration of this suffering is bound by different cultural norms. For example, in German speaking countries it is common to observe a Trauerjahr (year of mourning) whereas in Syria there are 40 days of mourning. The new ICD-11 definition of PGD states that individuals must experience intense and prolonged symptoms of grief for over 6 months. Although there is robust research evidence that supports this time criteria in the Global North (e.g. North America and Europe), the current definition of PGD may be missing key symptom items and features that are more representative in different cultures.

Ultimately, we would like to develop a catalogue of culture concepts of distress (CCD) that could be accessed worldwide to help clinicians more accurately assess and diagnose PGD in different cultural groups.

What was one of the most interesting findings?

Part of the analysis focused on establishing common grief symptoms for disordered grief in Japanese bereaved. Participants described a range of emotional responses that are associated with both normal and abnormal grief responses. One unique emotional response was identified related to sadness: The sense of loss was described using a metaphor for distress ‘as a hole opening up inside the kokoro (heart).’

The in-depth qualitative analysis provided insight for clinical application, for example, due to

prominent values of emotional control, stigma towards mental illness, or lack of somatic items in the assessment measure, PGD may be underestimated in Japanese culture with the current ICD-11 PGD guidelines.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

I am currently re-reading ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ by David Guterson which takes place on the islands neighbouring Vancouver and UBC. It is an excellent book but a harrowing story about the Japanese internment camps during World War II. This is also an often overlooked part of Canadian history.

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

We were able to identify new symptoms that are very relevant for the Japanese context that are currently missing from the ICD-11 PGD definition. For example, somatic symptoms are robustly endorsed in the Japanese context, however, these are largely missing from the PGD ICD-11 definition. On the other hand, yearning and longing for the deceased (a core symptom of PGD ICD-11) is considered a normal and encouraged process, related to the emphasis on continuous bonds. Clinicians will need to consider these possible cultural differences before diagnosing PGD in the Japanese context. Considering the deeper beliefs and values of a culture and how this may impact on the assessment of grief is of great importance.

Thank you for your time!


Other places to connect:
Website
International Counseling
LinkedIn

Interview with Sarah Rubin and Joselyn Hines

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Sarah Rubin is an Associate Professor at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cleveland campus. She is a medical anthropologist who studies motherhood in the US and South Africa. She’s an advocate for health equity and reproductive justice. She lives in rural northeast Ohio with her family.

Joselyn Hines is a fourth-year medical student at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cleveland campus and psychiatry residency applicant. She has held many leadership positions within her medical school and local community. She is an active advocate and leader for underrepresented minority medical students and marginalized patient populations. She is passionate about destigmatizing mental illnesses and connecting the community to proper psychiatric care.

What is your article As Long as I Got a Breath in My Body’’: Risk and Resistance in Black Maternal Embodimentsabout?

This article explores the everyday experiences of Black mothers in Cleveland, OH as they navigate pregnancy and postpartum in the context of the racially disparate risk of infant death due to structural racism. These mothers articulated awareness of ways that racism causes them stress as they strive to have a healthy pregnancy and birth and raise their children well. We describe an embodied orientation toward motherhood that we call “betterment” where women attempt to overcome the disadvantages and oppressions of structural racism by centering their children, reconsidering and reconfiguring the social support they need to raise them, and by focusing on the future.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.

Rubin: I’ve always been fascinated by reproduction and motherhood and understanding “what it’s like” to mother in different contexts and circumstances. I work with mothers in South Africa as well as the US.  Ethnography is my favorite way of engaging in research, but I also enjoy the breadth and multidimensionality of interdisciplinary collaborations. My favorite way to do research, though, is by engaging and mentoring students.

Hines: I am passionate about research on chronic stress in Black woman and its impact on the maternal and infant mortality health disparity in Cleveland, Ohio. I am interested in women’s mental health, reproductive psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry.

What drew you to this project?

Rubin: When I learned about the great racial disparity in infant mortality around our campus in Cleveland, OH and the role of chronic stress in creating and maintaining that disparity, I wondered what it looked like and felt like to mother under those conditions. We started with that phenomenological question, and it led us to an understanding of how structural racism is experienced and resisted by Black mothers.

Hines: Black women’s voices are often silenced and objectified in medicine. This project amplifies the voices and stories of Black women and sheds light on the struggles and obstacles that black women face and overcome to successfully parent.

What was one of the most interesting findings?

The Black mothers in our study demonstrate a love and commitment to their children that defy pathologizing discourses like “Welfare Queen;” but they also disrupt the positive trope of the “Superstrong Black mother,” which renders invisible the hardship and grief of living and mothering in a racist society. Our findings forge a middle path by showing how Black mothers’ bodies are shaped by the chronic stressors of structural racism but are also a source of resistance, especially in service to their children.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

Rubin: I’m reading Birthing Black Mothers by Jennifer C Nash. It’s a fascinating analysis of “Black motherhood” as a political symbol. It’s prompting me to reconsider my own analysis of Black motherhood, and also my positionality as a scholar. I’m also watching Season 10 of the Great British Baking Show. It’s a hug, nap, and cup of tea all rolled into one flaky pie crust. A working mother’s salve.

Hines: The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

Rubin: Listen to Black Mothers!

Hines: This project shows how social determinants of health are lived and embodied by vulnerable populations. Readers can use this information to better understand their perspective, provide holistic quality care, and to better advocate for systemic changes in society that can ultimately provide better health outcomes for and save the lives of Black mothers and babies.

Thank you for your time!


Other ways to connect:
Twitter: Sarah Rubin | Joselyn Hines
LinkedIn: Sarah Rubin
Other applicable website: Sarah Rubin

Book Release: “The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addition Treatment in the United States”

This week on the blog we are highlighting a new book by Claire Clark from the Columbia University Press entitled The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States (2017). As the opioid crisis in the United States is continuing to make headlines, Clare traces the history of addition treatment and embeds developments in the social, political, and cultural moments from which they arose.


via Columbia University Press website

“In the 1960s, as illegal drug use grew from a fringe issue to a pervasive public concern, a new industry arose to treat the addiction epidemic. Over the next five decades, the industry’s leaders promised to rehabilitate the casualties of the drug culture even as incarceration rates for drug-related offenses climbed. In this history of addiction treatment, Claire D. Clark traces the political shift from the radical communitarianism of the 1960s to the conservatism of the Reagan era, uncovering the forgotten origins of today’s recovery movement.

Based on extensive interviews with drug-rehabilitation professionals and archival research, The Recovery Revolution locates the history of treatment activists’ influence on the development of American drug policy. Synanon, a controversial drug-treatment program launched in California in 1958, emphasized a community-based approach to rehabilitation. Its associates helped develop the therapeutic community (TC) model, which encouraged peer confrontation as a path to recovery. As TC treatment pioneers made mutual aid profitable, the model attracted powerful supporters and spread rapidly throughout the country. The TC approach was supported as part of the Nixon administration’s “law-and-order” policies, favored in the Reagan administration’s antidrug campaigns, and remained relevant amid the turbulent drug policies of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. While many contemporary critics characterize American drug policy as simply the expression of moralizing conservatism or a mask for racial oppression, Clark recounts the complicated legacy of the “ex-addict” activists who turned drug treatment into both a product and a political symbol that promoted the impossible dream of a drug-free America.”


Claire Clark is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Kentucky. She is secondarily appointed in the Department of History and associated with the Program for Bioethics. Clark further directs a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on Addition in American History. She graduated from Vassar College and was dual trained as an historian of medicine (PhD) and behavioral scientist (MPH) at Emory University.

For more information, visit the Columbia University Press website, available here.

Conference: American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities, Oct 19-22, 2017

This week we are highlighting four sessions from the upcoming American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities Annual Conference in Kansas City, MO from October 19-22, 2017. The sessions are categorized under Religion/Culture/Social Sciences, and include topics interesting to scholars in multiple disciplines. For the full conference schedule, visit the ASBH 2017 meeting website here.


Panel Session: China’s Forced Organ Harvesting: A Central Test of Our Time

Thursday, Oct 19 – 1:30-2:30pm

With David Li, Yiyang Xia, and Grace Yin

A decade of research by international investigators has concluded that the Chinese party-state is systematically killing prisoners of conscience on demand to supply its vast organ transplant industry. In June 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.Res. 343, condemning the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong adherents and other prisoners of conscience in China.

Researchers examined hundreds of transplant hospitals in China and analyzed data about their capabilities, capacity, personnel strength, and potential patient groups from medical journals, media reports, official statements, web archives, and government policies and funds.

The research estimates that China now performs between 60,000 and 100,000 transplants per year–more than any other country in the world. Even based on government-imposed minimum requirements, China could have performed more than one million total transplants since 2000.

The official organ sources–death row prisoners and voluntary donors–account for only a small fraction of the total volume. The victims are primarily Falun Gong meditators killed through organ extraction outside of judicial process as part of the Communist Party’s campaign to eradicate the group.

The issue of forced organ harvesting presents an opportunity and an obligation to bring medical and academic institutions to the center of bioethics. Presenters will articulate with the audience concrete actions to prevent the complicity of American institutions and individuals, including providing training, equipment, recognition, collaboration, and organ tourism to Chinese institutions that are participating in this crime. Comprehension of the issue helps institutions and individuals make informed choices and uphold social responsibility.


Panel Session: Pathways to Convergence: Sharing a Process that Aimed to Examine the Diverse Perspectives of Catholics on Advance Care Planning and Palliative Care in the United States

Thursday, Oct 19 – 2:45-3:45pm

With Robert Barnet MA MD, John Carney MEd, Matthew Pjecha MSPP, and Carol Taylor MSN PhD RN

Pew Charitable Trusts recently funded a project to examine views among Catholics in the U.S. regarding end-of-life, palliative care and advance care planning. Center for Practical Bioethics (CPB) served as coordinator for the project. A six-member steering group representing ecclesial, Catholic Health, and ethical interests, along with CPB (a secular organization) invited three groups of eight Catholics from different disciplines and perspectives to capture conservative and progressive themes within American society and among practice settings. Roles and responsibilities within those realms were prominently featured in deliberations with goal of clarifying areas of divergence, convergence and possible paths forward. The groups examined: – Social responsibility derived from tradition (how the Church presents itself and speaks in the public square and what informs this presence) – Covenant and contract (roles of free and informed consent in advance care planning and decision-making between patients and providers) – Shared decision making (Church teaching that informs specific decisions faced in goals of care conversations and interdisciplinary care planning for palliative care patients)Identified as Pathways to Convergence the groups aspired to identify common values and principles and report on the results following a convening. Presenters will explore how ethicists can use the processes, methods and findings of this group when workings with patients for whom faith tradition may play an important role and among providers, and others who share different perspectives on end of life to facilitate optimal advance care planning and palliative care.


Paper Session: Religion, Culture, and Social Sciences Paper Session 1

Thursday, Oct 19 – 4:00-5:00pm

Creating Compliance: Using Games to Engage Patients in Medical Management 

by Kristel Clayville

This presentation offers a method for increasing compliance among transplant patients. The recommendations presented are from non-medical clinical observation from a chaplain who deals with the day-to-day coping skills of transplant patients. The case studied focuses on the emotional aspects of compliance, and the attendant interpretation and recommendations focus on the social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of dealing with the existential difficulties of undergoing a solid organ transplant. Ultimately, the recommendations are for presenting medical compliance as a game that patients play rather than as a set of medical practices that sustain life. Thinking in terms of games not only helps the patient’s motivation, but it also offers the family and support network a language with which to engage the patient and help with the practices of compliance.

The Ethics of Influence: Celebrity Physicians and Social Media 

by Patrick Herron

Growth of social media has not only changed how individuals interact socially, but in how we engage with professionals too. Recognition of a physician’s social media “influence” is based on her/his ability to affect other people’s thinking. The greater the influence, the more appeal that individual has to companies or other individuals who might want to promote an idea or sell a product. Celebrity actors/athletes are often seen as prime influencers with regards to advertising campaigns, (i.e. “Got milk?” and “Milk: it does a body good”) to increase sales.

Celebrity physicians such as Dr. Mehmet Oz have used influence to promote health products and interventions, which raised considerable debate as to whether there were lapses in ethical and professional judgment. Not all physicians will have the platform of a Dr. Oz, but social media has created ample opportunities for many lesser known physicians and trainees to leverage their own professional expertise and growing social media prominence to become influencers. Such financial partnerships raise questions about conflicts of interest, professionalism and potential violations of an ethical duty of care.

The impact of social media on consumer healthcare decision making along with the dependence by consumers on their friends and families for healthcare product reviews (often shared via social media) has dramatically changed marketing. Consumer confidence and increased reliance on the opinions of physicians they follow via social media accounts can have a detrimental affect on the patient-physician relationship that consumers have with their actual health care provider.

Make Aging Great Again: Imagining a YUGE Lifespan

by Leah Fowler

The new era of longevity research seeks extended healthy life, with hoped-for interventions that would slow the aging process so that one year of clock time is matched by less than one year of biological time. Infirmities of old age would compress into a short period at the end of life—thereby increasing the ‘health span’. The benefit: living long and living well. Embedded in longevity discourse is humanity’s oldest and most pervasive wish: defying death. Slowing the process of aging, it is hoped, will lead to treatments to reverse it.

Social arenas and actors at the center of longevity are grounded in big data, big investment, and a breathtaking sense that “the person who is born today will live to 200.” A prominent longevity researcher says, “It is ageist and morally repugnant to not treat aging as a disease that needs a cure.” These expectations, fueled by aging populations, are rooted in narratives that render the possible futures of long, healthy lives as inevitable and real today. Bringing the future into the present—conveying hope and fear as moral vectors— introduces an imperative to pursue the extension of the life- and health spans as a matter of course, and devalues alternatives as non-progressive or even immoral. This paper presents a qualitative analysis of longevity stakeholders discussing the moral imperative to extend human life and free of the ravages of aging. Their narratives illustrate future social imaginaries that are central to the movement and spur us to take action today.


Paper Session: Religion, Culture, and Social Sciences Paper Session 2

Sunday, Oct 22 – 9:15-10:45am

Religion Matters: A Critical Response to Daniel Weinstock’s Appraisal of Conscientious Refusal

by Nicholas Brown

Daniel Weinstock has recently argued that it is necessary to make a distinction between freedom of conscience and freedom of religion when evaluating questions of conscientious refusal. Weinstock holds a right to refusal to care on the grounds of conscience enjoys a more privileged status than refusals made on religious convictions inasmuch as he judges religious refusals to be non-essential to the flourishing of a robust democratic ethos, and because he finds religious objections to lack a sufficient epistemological and ethical rationality that is publicly “reasonable.” The purpose of this paper is to offer a response that is both critical and sympathetic. Toward that end my argument is as follows: First, I will critically evaluate the underlying epistemological assumptions undergirding Weinstock’s privileging of conscientious over religious refusals to care. More specifically I will draw upon the philosophical work of Nancey Murphy and Michael Polyani to show not only why Weinstock’s account of reasonability is inadequate, but also why a religious ratio is just as publicly accessible as a non-confessional one. Next, I will draw upon Romand Cole’s political theory to demonstrate why religious perspectives are not only vital to the flourishing of a democratic ethos, but are so precisely because they help inculcate the critical mode of conscience that Weinstock endorses. Finally, I conclude by suggesting that Lisa Sowle Cahill’s articulation of theology as a participatory mode of discourse offers a more compelling basis upon which to adjudicate the ethical tensions entailed in conscientious refusal that Weinstock rightly identifies.

The Church Amendment Reconsidered: Lost Assumptions of the First Federal Healthcare Conscience Clause

by Ronit Stahl

In the wake of Roe v. Wade (1973), Congress passed the Church Amendment, which allows doctors, nurses, and hospitals to refuse to perform abortions or sterilizations on the basis of religious or moral convictions. As the foundation of subsequent federal and state conscience clauses, the Church Amendment operates as a powerful tool that enables healthcare providers and institutions to opt out of providing—and thereby restrict access to—contested medical interventions, typically in reproductive, end-of-life, and LGBT healthcare. Yet the legislative history of the Church Amendment offers a more complicated and nuanced set of assumptions about the intended effects and implementation of the nation’s first healthcare conscience clause. This talk will discuss the presumptions about access, disclosure, scope, and impact embedded in the Church Amendment and consider the value of a countervailing narrative about conscience clauses in an era of expanding conscience legislation.

Hinduism and Bioethics: Some Basics and Some Applications

by Deepak Sarma

With an increasing number of patients with Hindu heritage and background, it is imperative that the bioethics community begins better versed in germane issues pertinent to Hindus. What, for example, is the Hindu position on brain death and organ transplantation? What sorts of neurogenomic treatments and interventions are possible given the Hindu view of the self? How do these perspectives agree, or conflict with prevailing discourses in bioethics? Since Hindus makeup only a small population of patients they are further from the ‘center’ and from most patients. Healthcare providers, in this connection, will need to expand their knowledge of those whose beliefs are not at the center.

Book Review: “A Surgeon in the Village”

This week we are highlighting a book review written by Veronica Tomasic originally published in MedHum Daily Dose, a blog for the intersections of medicine and humanities, available here. The book is entitled A Surgeon in the Village: An American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Africa (2017) by Tony Bartelme, published by Beacon Press.


A Surgeon in the Village: An American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Africa (Beacon Press, 2017) is the story of American neurosurgeon Dr. Dilan Ellegala’s efforts to provide medical aid in Tanzania. It was written by Tony Bartelme, an American reporter for Charleston, South Carolina’s Post and Courier; Bartelme is a three time Pulitzer prize finalist, including for the series that formed the basis for this book. The Post and Courier’s executive editor relayed a story to Bartelme about a “crazy brain surgeon who opened a guy’s head with a wire saw in Africa”; Bartelme’s interest was piqued and thus began the story that he narrates here (269).

A Surgeon in the Village is a bildungsroman of sorts. It describes the beginning of Ellegala’s career as a neurosurgeon and his personal journey toward finding meaning in his work. It is also about his ideas for how foreign medical aid should be delivered, and the growth of an organization, Madaktari Africa (Madaktari means doctors in Swahili), that he formed as a result of his ideas.

We first meet Ellegala when he has just completed his neurosurgery training in the US. He is burned out after years of grueling residency and fellowship programs. He travels to Tanzania for six months, volunteering to perform brain surgery at a small, remote hospital. Ellegala is determined to spend as much time as possible vacationing while there. But his plan changes after he starts to attend daily morning meetings where the visiting foreign students and MDs, and local medical personnel gather to discuss their cases. Ellegala observes that the foreign students sit in a privileged position at the front of the room, while the local personnel — such as assistant medical officers (or “AMOs,” who have paramedic plus a few years’ level of training) — stand at the back of the room. This disturbs his sense of propriety — in the US, medical students typically stand or sit behind attendings and residents. He insists that the students and local personnel trade places, a shift that becomes a central organizing metaphor for the book. The change symbolizes the degree of responsibility Ellegala believes the local staff should have for the care they provide, and the respect he feels they should be shown by foreign visitors.

Galvanized, Ellegala starts to rethink traditional models for providing aid in Tanzania, a country with limited resources to train and keep its own MDs. Rather than encourage foreign MDs to travel to a hospital, perform surgeries for a brief period of time and then leave, Ellegala realizes that it makes more sense to train local AMOs to perform neurosurgical procedures. If they can take over, he reasons, a hospital will transition from being dependent on outside help to being self-sustaining. Ellegala notices an AMO who has a surgeon’s confidence about him, Emmanuel Mayyega, and he trains him to diagnose and perform operations for a number of conditions, such as intracranial tumors, head trauma, and hydrocephalus. Eventually, Mayyega trains others. And thus began the “train forward” movement in Tanzania.

Bartelme weaves through his account the challenges Ellegala faces in his career as he devotes time, money, and considerable energy to Madaktari Africa. He also describes some of the ethical issues that are raised by the “train forward” practice. For example, should we accept that people will die in countries where there are not enough traditionally-trained MD surgeons to perform surgeries? Or should surgeries in these countries be performed by people with limited training and supervision because they can save lives? And what about the liability exposure for people trained under such circumstances? One area where the book could have been strengthened would have been to devote a chapter to the history of aid organizations and their varied philosophies. While mention of organizations such as Smile Train, or Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health, among others, are interspersed throughout the book, it was never clear to me whether Ellegala was the first person to conceptualize “train forward,” or whether such a practice had already been established in other countries.

Altogether, A Surgeon in the Village is a warmly engaging account of one doctor’s efforts to make a difference in a part of the world that has limited medical resources, and the personal rewards his efforts afforded him. It would be useful for medical providers and students to read, as well as anyone interested in how best to provide aid to other countries.


Veronica Tomasic (PhD, JD) practices community law in the New Haven, CT, area. She is a scholar of literature, painting, psychoanalytic theory, and end-of-life issues.

For more information about the book, visit the Beacon Press website, here.

Article Highlight: Vol. 41, Issue 2, “The Tipping of the Big Stone—And Life itself. Obesity, Moral Work and Responsive Selves Over Time”

This week we explore Lone Grøn’s The Tipping of the Big Stone—And Life itself. Obesity, Moral Work and Responsive Selves Over Time. Grøn explores moral work and moral selves in the context of the obesity epidemic and weight loss processes. Cheryl Mattingly’s notions of “moral laboratories” (Moral Laboratories: Family Peril and the Struggle for a Good Life, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2014, available here) explore moral cultivation over time that cannot be disconnected from notions of biographical and narrative self. Building off Mattingly’s concepts, as well as philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels’ phenomenology, Grøn proposes the notion of a responsive self.


Grøn begins by introducing Rita, a participant in the obesity program at The Lifestyle Center, a Danish patient school which teaches self-care, diet, and exercise practices to people suffering from or at risk of what is termed “lifestyle-related diseases.” Grøn explores Rita’s reflections on obesity and weight loss, with specific attention to the transformation in notions of self, agency, and morality from fieldwork between 2001-2003 and 2014-2015.

Rita asks herself questions about her weight loss struggles, such as, “Why don’t I grow-up enough to take responsibility for my own well-being? Why is what I know to be the right thing to do a million miles removed from what I do in reality?” References to fighting the evil will or desire of your body, to sinning and backsliding, are plentiful and situate weight loss in the domain of morality. This places the concerns and reflections on weight-loss within broader historical and cultural ideas on self, agency, and morality, asking what kind of self one is able to be in the face of conflicting wills and moral demands.

Grøn takes up an argument that Mattingly put forward and developed, namely that moral cultivation over time cannot be disconnected from a notion of self.  Up until the last decade of the second millennium, attention to the relationships between body weight, food, and health were scarce in a Danish setting marked by cultural practices and values of “hygge,” that is, socializing by sharing food and alcohol, often to excess. Over the past two decades, this relationship has changed dramatically, and the consumption of food and drink have become morally charged in all corners of Danish society, from family spaces to the widespread network of institutions constituting the Danish welfare system. Further, a politically announced “paradigm shift” in the beginning of the second millennium in Danish health care services shifts attention from the treatment of acute diseases to the prevention of chronic diseases.

Grøn states that in many ways being obese has become an uninhabitable position. What used to be big and cozy (“hyggelig”) has become obese and alien. In the face of overwhelming personal and family histories of unsuccessful attempts at weight loss, temporary success is usually followed by increasing weight gain in a pattern widely documented in the scientific literature on weight loss processes over time. Both personal and family experience and scientific evidence define success as improbable, yet families struggling with obesity continue to experiment against the odds all the same. Thus, for Grøn, life itself becomes a laboratory.

Taking the experienced and biographical self seriously has allowed acknowledgement of the immense work of moral experimentation that Rita has engaged in over a lifetime. Furthermore, many other events and projects make up her life, including the cultivation of healing powers, of a garden of flowers, as well as of a home, family, and work life. This picture of Rita’s moral self could easily be lost if we were only concerned with the “obese” self, which can be constituted through workings of the bio-power and governmentality techniques of the Danish welfare state.

Grøn concludes by detailing the characteristics of the responsive self, emerging within the demand response dynamic. The responsive self displays both an event form that persists over the years (“I respond, therefore I am”), but also changes in terms of the content of the response. Thus, the notion of the responsive self stresses equally the suffering and the agentive dimensions of action—”an active passivity and passive activity.”


Lone Grøn is a Senior Researcher at VIVE The Danish Centre of Applied Social Science in Denmark, as well as a Senior Project Manager at KORA. She has done extensive anthropological research and ethnographic fieldwork on patient perspectives on chronic diseases, obesity, and behavioral change, highlighting the complexities of health work in the contexts of everyday lives. Her recent areas of research concern include social contagion in epidemics of non-communicable diseases and conditions, specifically in relation to kinship, relatedness and obesity; vulnerability and inequality in old age and the search for the good old life; and theoretical developments within philosophical and moral anthropology as well as phenomenological approaches in anthropology, which serve as the epistemological ground for experience-near and close-up studies of patients, citizens and families.