'From the Classroom to the Clinic: Humanities and Education in Bioethics' colloquium
Cumberland Lodge, The Great Park, Windsor, Berkshire
8th October 2012
Having been accepted to deliver a poster presentation titled 'Narratives of Medical Miniatures', I entertained the idea of exhibiting the artworks with the convenors of the colloquium, who were really excited about the prospect!
So, the miniatures took a short vacation from thier glass cabinet in Newcastle Arts Centre, were packed up in tissue paper and polestrene balls, and carefully transported to Cumberland lodge (via a brief trip to London Southbank for afternoon tea!)
A huge thank you goes to John Gardner and Dr Andrew Papanikitas for the warm, friendly welcome they offered both the miniatures and myself, and for providing the opportunity to share the artwork with such a wealth of interdiscplinery delegates from philosophy, law, the social sciences, the humanities, clinical disciplines and healthcare sciences. My thanks also extend to Faye Taylor that, without her generous support, my presence at the colloquim would not have been possible.
From the Classroom to the Clinic colloquium at Cumberland Lodge
Lecture: Sir Ian Kennedy “Health: Doing What’s Right”
From the Classroom to the Clinic: Humanities and Education in Bioethics
Advances in biotechnology, the introduction of new medical therapies, changes in social norms, and health-related malpractice bring into focus the ethical, legal and social dimensions of health and medicine and creates challenges for those working in healthcare and biomedical research. Such challenges raise a host of questions, such as: How should health professionals and biomedical researchers be taught ethics? Can you be taught to be ethical? Who should be included in the delivery of bioethics education as both an ethical and social phenomenon? How should the public be educated about health care biotechnological and medical research, and what role should the public play in shaping them?
This colloquium will explore the contribution of the humanities and the social sciences to the education of medical ethics and bioethics to trainee health professionals, health professionals, biomedical researchers, and the public. The core premise of this event is that health is an interdisciplinary phenomenon, and that contemporary issues related to healthcare, health policy and medical ethics are best addressed with an interdisciplinary approach.
In ‘On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection’, Susan Stewart articulates the miniature’s ability to “skew time and space relations of the everyday lifeworld” and finds its use value transformed into “the infinite time of reverie.” (Stewart, 1993) It has the capacity to create an “other” time, one which prohibits change and the instability of lived reality. Inspired by her theory, I chose the miniature scale in its cherished form to communicate the compelling affairs of modern medicine within a diminutive ordered world, away from external chaos.
Miniature medical models are all receptacles for the patient body. Far from the immaculate condition of branded miniature furniture, these models wear the visible signs of medical use, bearing a dolls house pathos where the imaginary presence of the inflicted patient is implied by the absence of the miniature figurine. On close scrutiny, they are unlikely to arouse the urge to procure and protect in the traditional sense of the miniature treasure, but on first encounter, they appear as intriguing, charming and humble as any other smaller than small artefact.
The absence of a miniature patient body is important. Each miniature medical model is a handheld metaphor for the physician’s rigorous attention on the tools of their trade to treat a diagnosed condition, more than a person embodying pain, which is remote from their patients’ own narrative.
The practice of medicine has historically been founded on the physician-patient relationship and the edifice of techniques, technologies and tools employed by medical practitioners to treat their patients. However, it seems the advancement of such expedients are jeopardising the foundation of medicine by becoming the centre of the physician’s attention, and imparting an impersonalised, sterile and dehumanising experience upon the patient. And the upshot of this rise in machine-like medical practice? Physicians are increasingly unable to distinguish between the human being and the biological system.
At the heart of the miniature works is the exploration of the human body, not solely the object of disease diagnosis, but the chief of illness narrative. The absent miniature patient in form animates such philosophical notions that accuse physicians of not wholly embracing the reality of human embodiment, and treating the corporeal body as a mere container of the mind. Practicing such medicine of distance offers only de-personalised treatment, far removed from the patients own narrative, to leave them feeling unheard, invisible and absent from the entirety of their treatment.
If these miniature medical models had a voice, they would speak the language of pain, anguish, concern, frustration, conflict and dilemma that pervade the experience of medicine for patients, careers, and often physicians.