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January 20, 2007

I Promise Not to Steal the Microwave

I have the most amazing case of stage fright. I can mouth off without thinking in front of the people I respect the most (from colleagues to faux news pundits), but put up one post on someone else's blog, and I freeze faster than a deer in headlights. Of course, I realize that the key here is that I've the time to think, and worry about reaction, whereas when I'm actually talking to someone, I simply act and react (and flip out later). Still, it is mind-boggling in an amusing sort of way.

Anyhow, Daniel approached me several months ago about guest blogging, and I was quite flattered. However, as he noted, I do already blog for another site, the Women's Bioethics Blog, as well as my own blog , and one of my main concerns was how would I decide what belonged where, blog-wise. Thinking about where to blog what rather closely mirrors the major decision I had to make about graduate school. In sort of a funny train of thought twist, the choice was between my current department of Philosophy at the University at Albany, and amusingly, Daniel's - the University of Texas Medical Branch's Institute for Medical Humanities. Bioethics or the medical humanities?

Of course, we have definitions for both subject areas, but to be honest, as an outsider to both fields, I (to this day) find the distinctions to be blurry lines at best. From my perspective on the outside (as Daniel noted, I have an obscure degree that focuses on interdisciplinary work and "parallel thinking") both fields borrow heavily from others. Philosophy, psychology, sociology, political science - even, to my dismay, scary mathematical things like statistics.

However, my studying-for-her-MCATs, works-in-medical-research sister offers the following quickie differentiation: there is a potential breadth to bioethics that the medical humanities, through its very title, is limited in. But on the flip side, the medical humanities offers a depth that bioethics often lacks, due to its broad nature.

My own definition tends to mirror this, with the following explanations. I find that the medical humanities is narrower than bioethics; there is, for example, no environmental ethics in the medical humanities, nor is there media ethics and responsibility, or many other fields that you can pull out of the very (almost too) broad name of bioethics. The medical humanities has a very specific and narrow depth of focus, but in that some areas that I, at least, am very interested in are left to the side.

The second thing is actually a very strong negative for the field of bioethics, at least for me. There is no narrative in bioethics. Certainly, narrative matters (in both the literal sense and as reference to the excellent, thought-provoking, and sometimes controversial column of the same name), but I can't seem to find it in bioethics. Unlike the medical humanities, which seems rich with history, literature - even poetry! - and storytelling, bioethics tells no stories. And if you discover anything about me, you will discover that I tell stories.

This, then, would seem problematic, as I opted for the non-narrative degree. I suppose this is my one concession to ego - I happen to be fairly confident in both my skill as a writer and my utterly stubborn personality. Any professor thinking that they will knock my particular writing style out of me is in for a rather rude awakening. Oh sure, I'll modify tone as necessary; I can be as dry as the next journal author. But that doesn't mean I'm dropping what makes my writing quirky, referential, and well, mine. Just because I'm playing the game doesn't mean I can't wear pigtails. (That worked as a metaphor when I first wrote it out...)

Over the course of finishing my undergraduate thesis, I realized that although my passion fell into medicine, it's not just medicine; it spills out to science (fact and fiction), politics, policy, the media, food and more. I am, in many ways, simply a glorified academic magpie. And I realized that my particular magpie tendencies were almost perfectly matched with the dual degree program being offered at the University at Albany and the Alden March Bioethics Institute.

If you're looking for a formal discussion of the differences between the fields, well. This obviously is not it. Thankfully, it wasn't meant to be! In fact, all this was meant to be is an explanation of why my first post for Daniel hasn't appeared as quickly as I thought it would. What started off as a few sentences at the beginning of another essay morphed into what you're reading now.

And what did I decide, about what will go where? Well, I'd like to be able to tell you that I discovered some rational format, that my posts here will be more thoughtful and researched and references, while my Women's Bioethics Blog posts will be faster, more off-the-cuff commentary pieces, and my own blog will continue to be a hodgepodge of everything including the sink - all of which, come to think, is true. It will likely be arbitrary, relying on gut and feeling, sometimes sloppy, often shy, and hopefully always boggled and amused.

(For now, I can at least feel better about having gotten something posted, before I fly back across the country, if not the thing I originally intended!)


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» Slowly Taking Over the World, One Blog at a Time from Academia as an Extreme Sport
In addition to being a semi-frequent blogger at the Women's Bioethics Blog, I am now guest blogging over at the fabulous Medical Humanities blog. And apparently making a point, right off the bat, about sly and quirky jokes and titles - no one, at leas... [Read More]


Fascinating post. One question: if medical humanities implicates so many different disciplines and fields of inquiry, might there be a sense in which it is actually broader than bioethics practice (if not theory) in the West?

One could argue that the new (renewed?) focus on interdisciplinary bioethics is a move towards a medically humanistic way of doing or conceiving of bioethics.

That's a heck of a thought-provoking first post.

Have a good flight.

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