July 7, 1975

People Aren't Diseases

JAMA. 1975;233(1):62. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03260010064030

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For many years I have carried on a lonely, futile (admittedly desultory) campaign to combat the depersonalization of sick people through careless language that refers to them by their disease. I have long since come to realize that it is a forlorn task, since most of these dreadful words are so deeply embedded in our medical patois that no editorial crowbar can pry them loose. Some of the words sound more terrible than others, but all are offensive, especially to the hapless patient. Not only must he endure the somatic injury of his disease, but he must suffer the dehumanizing insult of the thoughtless jargon that flows between the White Coats—towering over his bed. He is no longer a sick person; he has become just a sick organ.

So loathesome was the term "leper" that popular pressure expunged it from the scientific literature and most of the literate press. It