A Non-Standard Practice of Medicine
In the mid-1950s, physician James Burt began modifying episiotomy repair; two decades later, he offered ‘love surgery’ as an elective. In early 1989, shortly after several women accused him on national television of performing an experimental surgery on them without their consent, Burt relinquished his medical license. The popular media mostly portrayed Burt as practicing outside the norms of medical practice, allowed to do so by his peers. But this narrative fails to consider questions about routine medical innovation the Burt story brings forth. Historians (and bioethicists) have, for the most part, focused on infamous – think Tuskegee – unethical medical research. But what can the development of ‘love surgery’ tell us of about normative surgical development, routine medical innovation, and informed consent for routine procedures since the 1950s?
Sarah B. Rodriguez, PhD, is a lecturer in the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program in the Feinberg School of Medicine and in the Global Health Studies Program in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. Her area of research is in women’s reproductive and sexual health since the early twentieth century. Her first book, Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy: A History of a Medical Treatment, was published in the fall of 2014.
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