Published November 10, 2021
Review: Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality, by Charles C. Camosy (New City Press, 224 pp., $23)
In the midst of an extensive legal discussion about proper compensation for medical injuries, the Babylonian Talmud offers some stark pronouncements on human nature—several of which point to the need for a healthy skepticism of the medical profession.
The premise is simple: If Bob injures Joe, Bob is liable for the cost of Joe’s medical treatment. But Joe maintains a good deal of say over how the treatment is arranged. If Bob suggests hiring a remote doctor, Joe can insist on someone local. If Bob offers to administer treatment himself—thereby avoiding the expense of a physician—Joe can refuse it. Finally, if Bob suggests hiring a doctor who will treat Joe for free, Joe may justifiably retort that “a doctor who works for nothing is worth nothing.”
The Talmud’s basic insight is that interpersonal and financial arrangements directly affect the quality of medical care—two doctors of equal skill might be paid the same fee for their services, but a local doctor is more likely to feel accountable toward his neighbors. Conditions must be carefully arranged to facilitate the physician-patient relationship; it is vital for patients to trust their doctors, and for doctors to feel an immediate and substantive obligation to patients. In short, the Talmud suspects doctors, but seems to understand them exceptionally well.
In his new book, Losing our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality, Charles Camosy expresses a related suspicion, not of doctors but of medical culture. He argues that Western medicine since the 1970s has heeded the wrong bioethicists. Advocates of a “secular inquisition” have come to dominate the field of public bioethics, driving out theologians and other traditionalists. The upshot is that health care authorities have slowly relinquished their belief in fundamental human equality, or the innate dignity shared by every human person.
Devorah Goldman, a senior editor at Mosaic magazine and contributing editor of American Purpose, is the Tikvah Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.