Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds

‘What are the Medical Humanities for?’, Prof. Robin Downie, 30 April 2013

‘What are the medical humanities for?’
Professor Robin Downie, Philosophy, Glasgow University

Tuesday 30 April, 5pm-6pm
Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Leeds
This talk will briefly outline three central uses for the medical humanities:  examining central medical concepts – for example, evidence, measurement scales, patient choice and modes of medical attention; supplementing existing parts of medical courses – for example, communication skills or ethics, by placing them in a wider humanities context; assisting personal and professional development through the encouragement of self-awareness and individuality of mind.  Research for these functions is helpfully carried out into three areas: into the component subjects of medical humanities, such as literature, film, the fine arts and philosophy of medicine; into the

value/benefit of medical humanities for medical students/doctors; into how best to present medical humanities to medical students and doctors.  The current rise to prominence of medical humanities is to be celebrated, but there are dangers attached.  For example, perhaps the subject-area has become too professionalized and is drifting away from its base in medical education and clinical practice. Some enthusiasts even wish to make the humanities compulsory, in which case they will become just one more damn thing to be learned up. Or some researchers have become obsessed with particular words, such as empathy or narrative, to the neglect of more central concepts of medical practice, such as attention or clinical examining.  The talk will develop the last point at more length and consider different modes of medical attention.  Medical attention in clinical practice may be illuminated by the kind of attention an art historian might give to a painting or a musician to a performance.

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Robin Downie is Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University and Professorial Research Fellow.  He was educated at the Universities of Glasgow and Oxford.  Before moving into university teaching he was a Russian interpreter in the Army. He has been a member of Government and professional committees concerned with ethical issues, such as the BMA Ethics Committee and Government Committees on xenotransplantation and genetics, and he has been on the Council of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Recent book publications include:
Bioethics and the Humanities (with Dr Jane Macnaughton).  Routledge – Cavendish, 2007.
The Philosophy of Palliative Care : Critique and Reconstruction (with Dr Fiona Randall).  Oxford University Press, pb.  2006.  This book won the Medical Journalists’ Association Prize for the best medical book of the year.
End of Life Choices: Consensus and Controversy (with Dr Fiona Randall).  Oxford University Press 2009.  This book was short-listed in the BMJ international book competition.

All are welcome!
Please contact Clare Barker (c.f.barker@leeds.ac.uk) with any queries.

The Centre for Medical Humanities is located in the basement of the School of English, with the entrance in the School of English foyer.

2 comments on “‘What are the Medical Humanities for?’, Prof. Robin Downie, 30 April 2013

  1. Centre for Medical Humanities
    27 April, 2013
  2. Pingback: Upcoming Seminar: “What are the Medical Humanities for?” | www.humanitiesinmedicine.org

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