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Don't touch me

Natalie Solent, in commenting on an apparent medical scandal in the UK involving a doctor who asked a patient out on a date rather too persistently for someone's comfort, says

we have adopted a stricter code than ever the Victorians knew if for a doctor to ask a patient for a date (not sex, a date) in itself constitutes a career-destroying offence....This all seems designed to force doctors into celibacy; a high proportion of all the people a doctor ever meets must surely be made up of his or her patients.

That doesn't sound so implausible, but it makes me wonder if there isn't something besides exaggerated fears of stalking behind this impulse. Medical care is much more personally obtrusive and invasive than it was in the past; this is an inevitable outcome of our increasingly detailed knowledge of the body and its workings. The more doctors can figure out right down to the molecular level just what is wrong with us, the more intimate is their contact with our bodies. In fact, I don't think I am wrong in saying that a woman has more intimate a relationship with her gynecologist than with her husband -- who, after all, usually neither knows nor cares what her ovaries look like. And men too have to submit to unusually close physical contact with other human beings who are otherwise merely acquaintances, in order to have their medical needs looked after. (For instance, the notorious prostate examination of joke and story.)

I posit that this level of intimate physical contact with other human beings -- more than one these days, and more of them strangers, as the time of the single family doctor is long past -- is the cause of an increasing level of anxiety in society. Another factor that comes into play is the recurrent figure of the doctor-hero -- see all the popular medical-themed television dramas. At some level we know it is wrong to expose ourselves to hero figures the way we must to our own doctors, and this adds to the cognitive dissonance. Our instincts are to keep our clothes on and keep our distance and dignity, but our health needs prevent us from being able to do so.

And another effect of this anxiety is the common depiction in science fiction of medical care as having "advanced" beyond today's "crude" surgical methods -- it's all done with rays from machines that never actually touch you, as in various Star Trek episodes (I especially recall the episode "City on the Edge of Tomorrow" where a delirious Doctor McCoy is running about 1930's Earth moaning about "sutures"). All very nice and clean and no one has to get naked for anyone but Captain Kirk.

Comments (1)

Jim C. [TypeKey Profile Page]:

I notice the doctor is from Pakistan. Muslim, maybe? Maybe more inclined to consider women as subordinate?

Of course, the illiteracy of the text message would turn me off immediately and permanently. :)

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Don't worry, he's just chopping broccoli.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 7, 2007 7:52 PM.

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