The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies

The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies

The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies

The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies

Synopsis

Film and literature have long been mined for interesting examples and case studies in order to teach biomedical ethics to students. This volume presents a collection of about 80 very brief, accessible essays written by international experts from medicine, social sciences, and the humanities, all of whom have experience using film in their teaching of medical ethics. Each essay focuses on a single scene and the ethical issues it raises, and the volume editors have provided strict guidelines for what each essay must do, while also allowing for some creative freedom. While some of the films are obvious candidates with medical themes - "Million Dollar Baby", "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" - some are novel choices, such as "Pan's Labyrinth" or "As Good as it Gets". The book will contain several general introductory chapters to major sections, and a complete filmography and cross-index at the end of the book where readers can look up individual films or ethical issues.

Excerpt

In the Wachowski Brothers’ science fiction epic, The Matrix (1999), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburn) offers Neo (Keanu Reeves) a critical choice: take the blue pill “the story ends. You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe,” or the red pill “you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Using film to teach medical ethics is like swallowing the red pill. Abstract concepts and ideas can be extracted from film, debated, and discussed. Viewers can relate with or alienate themselves from the actors, the plot, or the context. They can address the issues portrayed in the film and identify others that may not be fully developed. Regardless of their level of expertise and experience, viewers can voice opinions, argue contradictory positions, display their emotions, and justify their perspectives based on external evidence, their personal experiences, and what actually happens in the fictional narrative of the cinematographic experience.

From an educator’s standpoint, film provides a multilayered nucleus from which significant learning can take place: it also makes available a myriad of scenes and scenarios that can be dissected, critiqued, and used as examples to highlight moral dilemmas. Not only can films teach us how to restrain ourselves from doing what we know, or think we know, is wrong, but they can portray situations that might confuse us and thus prompt reflection on the why we do what we do (or don’t do). Movies can thus be used to help health care providers develop skills in the human dimensions of medical practice. They promote enthusiasm for learning, highlight themes, enhance discussion and reflection, and sometimes, help illustrate specific teaching points on clinical topics, social and health care policy issues, cultural differences, and science.2–4

This is cinemeducation, and, as stated in the preface of Alexander, Lenahan, and Pavlov’s book on the subject, if you are not already using film in your curriculum, we are confident that you will be after reading this book. Films with a solid plot and coherent story often work more dramatically and engagingly than a printed case description. Visual images impart important information that simply cannot be duplicated in the written case history, which usually presents the facts and often ignores the broader context of an ethical situation; equally important, film narratives put a human face on an abstract ethical issue, taking it from the realm of the theoretical and placing it firmly within the realm of the personal. Thus, film can be effectively used as an experiential exercise, as part of problemsolving sessions, or as a metaphor to clarify or dramatically magnify perspectives about a disease process or health care–related issue. Even a discussion of how . . .

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