Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jonathan B. Imber's "Trusting Doctors"

Jonathan B. Imber is the Class of 1949 Professor in Ethics and professor of sociology at Wellesley College. He is the author of Abortion and the Private Practice of Medicine.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trusting Doctors: The Decline of Moral Authority in American Medicine, and reported the following:
On p. 99 of my book, Trusting Doctors, I come to the end of the first part of the book, entitled "Religious Foundations of Trust in Medicine." A few short pages later, the second part of the book opens, entitled "Beyond the Golden Age of Trust in Medicine." My argument on p. 99 ends a long discussion about how Protestant ideas about vocation influenced the public perception of the physician as trustworthy and beneficent. On the same page, I point out that at a meeting of the American Medical Association in 1964, Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel was asked to speak on "The Patient as a Person." His talk, more a jeremiad, was not at all well received by the assembled group of doctors. He criticized them for all those faults that would become much more widely pointed out over the next several decades. Listen to Heschel (in 1964): "It is terribly embarrassing to know that some individual doctors seem to think that it is highly improper for a patient to get sick during weekends ... The patient is haunted with fear, but some doctors are in a hurry, and above all impatient. They have something in common with God; they cannot be easily reached, not even at the golf course."

My aim in Trusting Doctors is to describe not the immorality of doctors, but the decline in their moral authority, that is the decline of their presence in our lives as people we trust with our whole lives. I do not argue this decline is by any means all negative, but it is not all positive either. And this is my hope for readers: to be more aware and more acknowledging of what is at stake in trusting others, not only when we should not, but when we should.
Read an excerpt from Trusting Doctors, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Learn more about Jonathan B. Imber's work at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue