A Non-Standard Practice of MedicineIn 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
Lecturer, Medical Humanities & Bioethics Program, Feinberg School of Medicine; Lecturer, Global Health Studies Program, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University
Recorded March 18, 2015