chapter  2
11 Pages

THE ETHICS OF MEDICINE, AS REVEALED IN LITERATURE

ByWayne Booth

The drama Wit, by Margaret Edson, mostly located in a hospital ward, has I become one of the most celebrated plays of this decade. The heroine, a middleaged woman dying of ovarian cancer, reports to the audience both how she is feeling, as she endures each miserable step of her decline and treatment, and how her miseries relate to her professional life as a teacher of literature. She discovers only slowly that the treatment she has been receiving from top doctors is part of the drug research experiment they are aggressively pursuing. The play provides mounting evidence that the doctors care far more about their research results than about her pain and death; it is possible that they have even violated the standard rules about patient consent. As the heroine, Vivian, dies, she leaves her bed, takes off her garments, and appears before us beautifully nude. She has escaped, by dying, from the inhumane treatment of those doctors and various assistants. Only one nurse has exercised genuine “kindness,” teaching the teacher that she should have shown more kindness to her own literature students.