An eminent Polish physician reflects on his lifetime practice of medicine.
Szczeklik (Catharsis: On the Art of Medicine, 2005) weighs in on the ongoing debate about the compatibility of religion and science, supporting the view of leading geneticist Francis Collins and rejecting the stance of Richard Dawkins, who embraces atheism. Szczeklik writes that "while evolution can tell us a lot about how life developed, it cannot answer the profound question about the meaning of life, or why the universe exists." He artfully combines insights from art and religion and speculations on the role that viruses may have played in the origin of DNA, and he sees great hope in the advancement of medicine—e.g., in the treatment of coronary artery disease, organ transplants and the potential of stem-cell research. Szczeklik traces how our definition of death has shifted as we have gained the ability to extend life artificially. The classic criteria—the cessation of “circulation and breathing”—have been supplanted by “irreversible, permanent cessation of brain function.” However, these new criteria are also problematic, as evidenced by cases cited by the author—e.g., a man in a vegetative state for 19 years who spontaneously recovered full mental ability or the controversial case of Terry Schiavo. While parents and spouses are involved in the decision on whether and when to declare a person dead, writes the author, “it is usually the mute decision of the doctors." Szczeklik suggests that the soul is capable of being found "somewhere between life and death, health and illness, science and art, and also in love.”
A profound celebration of the human spirit.