Departmental Papers (ASC)

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Book Chapter

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The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies

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This chapter discusses the issue of physicians' authority as seen in the film Dr. Kildare's Strange Case (1940). The film centers on intern Jimmy Kildare (Lew Ayres), who learns the medical ropes in Blair Memorial Hospital, guided by Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore). The “strange case” of this film's title begins when Gillespie assigns Kildare to work with Dr. Gregory Lane, a surgeon whose professional self-confidence has been crushed by a string of failed surgeries and resulting patient deaths. The chapter focuses on a scene where Lane confronts a patient with a skull fracture who refuses surgery; he ignores the patient's wishes and goes on to perform the operation. The scene opens a space to discuss what a doctor's authority is and how it has changed over the decades. Comparing past and present can generate a useful discussion about the contemporary nature of a doctor's power in relation to his or her patients and the ethical boundaries of that power.

Copyright/Permission Statement

“Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case” by Joseph Turow, in Chapter 3 of The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies edited by Henri G. Holt, 2011, reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.



Date Posted: 22 April 2019