10.0787 inhumane application of technology

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 07:37:57 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 787.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Timothy Mason <mason@cie.fr> (34)
Subject: Re: 10.0780 humane technology

This Thursday, I underwent a minor operation to have a lump removed from one
of the fingers of my left hand I will not bore with the details of waiting
time spent in corridors, semi-naked upon a trolley, or spread-eagled upon
the operating table awaiting the anesthetist's arrival while a transistor
radio bawled out the French top ten. I would suggest, however, that the use
of sophisticated technology - specifically here a local anesthetic - by no
means 'humanizes the relationship between doctor and patient.

Once the dope had taken effect, and my finger was thoroughly numb, the
surgeon arrived, with his retinue. In no time at all, my hand was isolated,
and sheets were arranged in such a way that neither could I see what was
going on, nor could the medical team see me. The operation came off amid
much good-humoured banter about BMWs, the government's attitude to doctors,
and whether or not the surgeon had accidentally sliced through a nerve ('I'm
allowed a nerve, at the end of a busy session!") On a couple of occasions, a
nurse poked her head around the sheet and suppressed her giggles long enough
to inquire as to my comfort ('Ca va, monsieur?' 'Ca va'). Finally, everyone
bustled out of the theatre, and by the time the nurse took down the sheets
which had isolated me from my own member, she and I were the only people in
the room.

Now, I'm not really complaining about all this - it was, in fact, rather
funny. And my finger was relieved of its strange growth, without my feeling
any pain. I would certainly not wish to return to a time when nothing other
than a bottle of rum would be available. But the technique also enables the
doctor to distance himself quite remarkably from his/her patient, and to
reduce him or her to the organ to be operated upon. On a far smaller scale,
and with benign rather than horrendous effects, it reproduces the alienation
from his own handiwork that enables the bombardier to commit mass-murder.

Timothy Mason
IUFM de Versailles

PS - yet another marvel of modern technology - the financial bureaucracy of
the social security system - allowed the surgeon to relieve me of a little
over 100 pounds for his pains, while also receiving an extra whack from the
public purse. All done by computer, too.