10.0780 humane technology

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 15 Mar 1997 08:54:17 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 780.
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: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (54)
Subject: humane technology

For Humanists interested in the qualities of humanity, and thus mortality, I
recommend the latest issue of the Times Literary Supplement (4902 for
14/3/97), whose most prominent review is of A.M. Daniels' book, <cite>The
Price of Meat</cite>. (Wonderful photograph on the cover of the issue, giving
much meaning to "price".) More particularly what should draw this issue to
the attention of our seminar is Raymond Tallis, "The difficulty of being
human", in which he reviews Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles, <cite>Naked to the
bone: Medical imaging in the twentieth century</cite>. Tallis is, by the
way, Professor of Geriatric Medicine (Manchester) and author of the new book
<cite>Enemies of Hope</cite>, a critique of contemporary anti-humanism and

"Kevles's wonderful -- and wonderfully told -- story uncovers the massive
hinterland of human effort and struggle, of high science supported by
thousands of patentable ingenuities, of infinite patience, careful
observation, and of courage and craftsmanship, behind the investigations I
order daily on my ward rounds", Tallis writes.

"Technology in the widest sense has been one of the major forces not only
for improving the understanding and diagnosis of disease -- and so making
medicine safer and more effective -- but also for debrutalizing medical
care.... The history of radiology nails the myth that there is something
intrinsically dehumanizing about high technology and repudiates the
simplistic notion, much favoured among humanist intellectuals in the
twentieth century, that technology is part of a wider inhumanity in a
secular, post-Enlightenment, contractual society that somehow fails to
respect the mystery of the human individual. Less than a century separates
the butchery of often blind, often fatal surgery from the civilities of
interventional radiology. The essential humanity implicit in hi-tech
solutions to the inhumane disorders of the body is poignantly signalled in
the dedication of Kevles's book to the baby whose ultrasonic in utero
portrait graces the same page.

"And yet... and yet...."

I cut off here because I do not wish to type much more, although the whole
article would not be too much (except for the solicitors at the TLS,
perhaps). Suffice it to say that the reviewer goes on to discuss a book that
deals with the fact that "people still sometimes wish to believe in a closer
relationship between physical diseases and the mind" than the materialist
view of technological medicine embodies. What interests me, in the context
of Humanist, is the humane potential of technology. Many of us still face
the suspicion of colleagues who view our work as damaging to humane
learning. We know this to be nonsense -- at least I hope we do -- but it is
useful to have such eloquent confirmation that the person who wields the
tool is where the morality of action lies, and that amidst all the disasters
we push toward health.

"There is still much progress to be made in the humanization of medical
care. But if we forget how far we have already travelled, we shall be
paralyzed by dangerous despair. Equally dangerous is the New Age assumption
that technological advance is inimical to empathy, kindness and real care.
Science and humanity, kindness and cure, can work hand in hand."


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk