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December 8, 1993

The Healer's Tale: Transforming Medicine and Culture

Author Affiliations

Yale University School of Medicine New Haven, Conn

JAMA. 1993;270(22):2740. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510220096048

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The subtitle of this book, "Transforming Medicine and Culture," emphasizes the author's contention that by manipulating nature, contemporary Western medicine changes culture. When a 22-week-old fetus can be kept alive, or when a brain-dead patient in a permanent vegetative state can become a "donor" of organs that will flourish long after that patient is truly dead, traditional boundaries of life and death grow very fluid, even among such empirically minded, secular people as physicians.

Examining the life histories of seven physicians who came of age during what they and the author call medicine's "Golden Age," 1945-1965, Sharon Kaufman, a medical anthropologist at the University of California, San Francisco, lets the physicians tell their own life stories. Physicians in those far-off times were usually Protestant men and of a higher social class—as they saw it—than the poor patients they cared for during their training. Of the seven, four were university-based academics—Paul