THIS MORTAL COIL: The Meaning of Health and Disease by Kenneth L. Vaux

THIS MORTAL COIL: The Meaning of Health and Disease

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Kenneth Vaux, Protestant minister and teacher of ethics at the Texas Medical Center, has a suspiciously neat view of the history and future of medical care. Limning medical history from Classical Greece to the present, Vaux identifies two eras: the Tradition--the pre-Cartesian age of scientific ignorance and spiritual wisdom--and the Experiment--the post-Cartesian age of scientific skill and spiritual shallowness. In Hegelian fashion, Vaux foresees the synthesis of these two eras in the Renovation, a new age of technologically competent medicine informed with human and spiritual values. Vaux has slim evidence that this happy merger of the best of both medical worlds is in fact upon us. Moreover, we learn little about the individual trees in this Renovated forest (abortion? euthanasia? DNA recombinant research?), and there is the golden haze of utopia in Vaux's vision. He is persuasive in describing how modern medicine has dismissed all humanity from human death and human illness, and his concern for the patient as both body and spirit is salutary. But these are common observations, as Vaux's judicious excerpts from the works of Leo Tolstoy, Rene Dubos, and Ivan Illich show. Most importantly, Vaux is attacking a problem larger than his hazy solution. He believes there is no ennobling metaphysical context to medical care because modern man has no metaphysics. If so, then Vaux's Renovation is doomed, for no change in medical policy can bestow on modern man the spiritual context which made sense of disease and death for his ancestors.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row