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Medical Humanities, Arts, and Ethics Event Series

Through engagement with the works of scholars and artists in medicine and the humanities, students and faculty are encouraged to explore ethical decision-making, cultural differences in world view, and the complexities of the interpretive act - the "multiple ways of knowing - " that are essential to the effective practice of the healing arts.

The events are aimed at continued engagement across disciplines that provides insight into the human condition, the nature of suffering and our responsibility to each other. In essence USC's core values of caring and respect, appreciation of diversity, commitment to ethical conduct, and obligation to service.

Organized by Pamela Schaff (Pediatrics and Family Medicine), Alexander Capron (Law and Medicine), and Lyn Boyd-Judson (Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics).

Previous co-organizers of the series include Erin Quinn (Family Medicine and Dornsife Science and Health) and Suraiya Rahman (Pediatrics).

Co-sponsored by the Keck School of Medicine’s Program in Medical Humanities, Arts, and Ethics, the USC Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, and the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics.

2011-2012 Speakers

2010-2011 Speakers

2009-2010 Speakers

Visions and Voices 2014-2015

'Mercy Killers"—A Play by Michael Milligan

Thursday, April 2, 2015, 4:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

USC Students, Staff, and Faculty RSVP
General Public RSVP

“Beautiful and heartbreaking.”—American Theatre Magazine

As part of the Medical Humanities, Arts and Ethics Series, which engages core health issues in society today, we will present Mercy Killers, a one-man theatrical performance featuring playwright and actor Michael Milligan and directed by Tom Oppenheim. This provocative play takes an honest and heartbreaking look at the increasing dysfunction of the American health care system.

Joe loves apple pie, Rush Limbaugh, the 4th of July and his wife, Jane. He is blue-collar, corn-fed, made in the USA and proud, but when his uninsured wife is diagnosed with cancer, his patriotic feelings and passion for the ethos of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are turned upside down. Mercy Killers powerfully reveals Joe’s journey as he struggles with the uniquely American experience of losing your health in the land of plenty.

Playwright and actor Michael Milligan has been writing and acting for the theatre for almost two decades. Milligan has appeared on Broadway as Little Charles in August: Osage County, De Bries in La Bete and as a “raver” and understudy in Jerusalem. He also received four stars for his performance of Lanford Wilson’s one-man show Poster of the Cosmos at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Milligan’s produced plays include HeroineUrgent: Aliens and a musical adaptation of Aesop’s Fables. His love of Shakespeare has taken him around the world, performing at the Shakespeare Theater, Royal Shakespeare Company, Cincinnati Playhouse, St. Louis Rep and Shakespeare Festivals throughout the country. More

Danielle Ofri—"The Amygdala and the Stethoscope: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine"

Monday, September 22, 2014, 11:30 AM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

Book signing and reception to follow.
Admission is free.

As part of the Medical Humanities, Arts and Ethics Series, which engages core health issues in society today, we will present an afternoon with essayist and physician Danielle Ofri. Renowned for her use of dramatic stories, Ofri will explore how emotions permeate clinical decisions and provoke physicians, despite their commitment to the scientific method, to act in ways that are not nearly as rational and evidence-based as they may think.

Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, has her clinical home at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the country. She writes about medicine and the patient-physician relationship for the New York Times and is the founder and editor in chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, the first literary journal to arise from a medical setting.

Ofri is the author of several books about the world of medicine, including What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine, Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients, Incidental Findings: Lessons from My Patients in the Art of Medicine and Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue. Her essays—which have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet, and been heard on and National Public Radio—have been selected for Best American Essays (twice) and Best American Science Writing. Ofri is the recipient of the John P. McGovern Award from the American Medical Writers Association for “preeminent contributions to medical communication." More

Visions and Voices 2013-2014

Sarah W. Tracy—"Altering American Consciousness: Alcohol, Drug Use, and American Medicine"

Thursday, April 3, 2014, 4:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus 

As part of the Medical Humanities, Arts and Ethics Series, which engages core health issues in society today, we will present an afternoon with Sarah W. Tracy, author of Alcoholism in America from Reconstruction to Prohibition and co-editor of Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000. Tracy earned her doctorate in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma, she taught at the universities of Delaware, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and at Yale University. Tracy will discuss the evolving history of addiction, treatment and drug-related policy in the United States, including the significance of the 1914 Harrison Narcotic Act, a tax act that regulated the sale of opiates and cocaine. The Harrison Act effectively banned the prescription of opiates for addiction treatment, permitting their use for only “medical” purposes. One hundred years later, our nation continues to struggle with the growing problem of addiction to both prescription painkillers and stimulants.

Nick Flynn—“Creativity and the Clinical Imagination”

Thursday, September 26, 2013, 4:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

Nick Flynn's most recent book, The Reenactmentscompletes a trilogy begun with his memoir of homelessness, Another Bullshit in Suck City, and The Ticking is the Bomb (2010), a memoir of interviews with prisoners released from Abu Ghraib. 

Visions and Voices 2012-2013

Rebecca Skloot—“The Ethical Dimensions of Medical Discovery: Lessons from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

Thursday, April 4, 2013, 4:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

Rebecca Skloot is an award winning science writer whose work has been widely anthologized. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times best-seller.  Skloot’s debut book tells the story of a young black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951—and left behind an inexplicably immortal line of cells known as HeLa. Henrietta Lacks, whose cells—harvested without her knowledge or consent—contributed to scientific advancements as varied as the polio vaccine, treatments for cancers and viruses, in-vitro fertilization, and the impact of space travel on human cells. The story is also about her children, who were later used in research without their consent and who have never benefited from the commercialization of HeLa cells, though the cells have helped biotech companies make millions of dollars. Part detective story, part scientific odyssey, and part family saga, The Immortal Life’s multi-layered approach raises fascinating questions about race, class, and bioethics in America.

Skloot has been featured on numerous television shows, including CBS Sunday Morning, The Colbert Report, Fox Business News, and others.   Winner of several awards, including the 2010 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Award for Excellence in Science Writing, the 2011 Audie Award for Best Non-Fiction Audiobook, and a Medical Journalists’ Association Open Book Award, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was featured on over 60 critics’ best of the year lists.

Shannon Brownlee—“Too Much Medicine? How Overtreatment, Unnecessary Care, and Economic Incentives Imperil the U.S. Health Care System”

Thursday, September 27, 2012, 4:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

Shannon Brownlee, MS, serves as the acting director of the New America Foundation Health Policy Program, in Washington, DC, and is an instructor at the Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice at Dartmouth Medical School. A nationally known writer and essayist, her work has appeared in The Atlantic, BMJ, New York Times Sunday Magazine, The New Republic, Slate, Time, Washington Monthly, Washington Post, and many other publications. Her book, Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, published in 2007, is a counterintuitive work that exposes the wasteful flaws in our healthcare system. It was named the best economics book of the year by New York Times economics correspondent, David Leonhardt.  "Patients, physicians, and policy makers would do well to consider her evidence as an important prescription for reform," says Jerome Groopman, MD. She is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Scholar and was a visiting scholar at the National Institutes of Health, Department of Bioethics in 2008-2009. She is the recipient of the National Association of Science Writers' Science-in-Society Award and the Association of Health Care Journalists' Award for Excellence. 

Visions and Voices 2011-2012

A Lecture by Dr. Paul Farmer, Global Humanitarian, M.D. and Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 4:00 PM

Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer is a founding director of Partners In Health (PIH), an international non-profit organization that provides direct health care services and has undertaken research and advocacy activities, on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. Dr. Farmer is the Presley Professor of Social Medicine and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School; chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women's Hospital; and the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, under Special Envoy Bill Clinton.

Dr. Farmer and his colleagues in the U.S. and in Haiti, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho, and Malawi have pioneered novel community-based treatment strategies that demonstrate the delivery of high-quality health care in resource-poor settings. Dr. Farmer has written extensively on health, human rights, and the consequences of social inequality. His most recent book is Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader. Other titles include Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the PoorThe Uses of HaitiInfections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues, and AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. Dr. Farmer is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, the Outstanding International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award from the American Medical Association, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and with his PIH colleagues, the Hilton Humanitarian Prize. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Visions and Voices 2010-2011

Laurie Garrett—"Betrayal of Trust: Critical Issues in Global Healthcare"

Friday, March 4, 2011, 3:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Science Campus

Laurie Garrett is one of America’s most eloquent and forceful speakers on global healthcare, infectious disease and disease prevention. She will deliver a multimedia talk that uncovers the reality of healthcare in the United States, Europe, Russia and Africa, providing a new understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities of delivering quality healthcare globally.

The only person to win the three “P”s of journalism—the Pulitzer, the Polk and the Peabody—Garrett makes plain the science behind the new threats to public health, both natural and manmade. She is particularly adept at navigating the politics that help and hinder how we prepare, treat and respond to these threats. A senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Garrett is the best-selling author ofThe Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. She has written forForeign AffairsEsquire and the Washington Post and appears frequently on television shows such asNightlineCharlie Rose and Oprah. Garrett is former president and now a member of the National Association of Science Writers and has been awarded three honorary PhDs, the latest from Georgetown University.

Jay Baruch—"Writing About Patients: Truth and Consequences”

Monday, October 18, 2010, 12:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, Health Sciences Campus

The recent era has seen a rise in writing about illness, including physician and patient memoirs, blogs about illness and the practice of medicine and fiction based on the experiences of patients. Jay Baruch, MD, will discuss the moral and ethical implications of this kind of writing. Dr. Baruch is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Click here to view USC-owned Physician and Patient Memoirs

Visions and Voices 2009-2010

Ira Byock, MD—"Dying Well - The Meaning and Value of Death"

March 12, 2010, 3:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

Co-sponsored with the USC Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics

Ira Byock is a leading palliative care physician and longtime public advocate for improving care through the end of life. He is past president of the Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and cofounder of the Life’s End Institute: Missoula Demonstration Project, a community-based research and quality improvement organization focused on end-of-life experience and care. He heads the national Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care program for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He is director of palliative medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and a faculty member of Dartmouth School of Medicine.

Howard Brody—"Professionalism, Electronic Records and the Physician-Patient Relationship"

February 12, 2010, 3:00 PM, Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

Co-sponsors: USC Medical Humanities, Arts, and Ethics and the USC Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics

Dr. Brody has written numerous articles on medical ethics, family medicine, and philosophy of medicine. His current research interests include the importance of an interdisciplinary humanities base for bioethics, ethical issues in primary care, community engagement in bioethics, and professional integrity in both medical practice and clinical research. Dr. Brody’s latest book is The Future of Bioethics(Oxford University Press, January 2009).