Law and Conversation

May 16, 2011

Medical malpractice in Madame Bovary

Earlier I posted about miserable marriages in literature and noted The Guardian’s recent reference to Gustave Flaubert‘s nineteenth century French classic, “Madame Bovary.”

Most think of “Madame Bovary” as a novel about marriage and adultery. It is, but did you know that there’s also a horrible case of medical malpractice within its covers?

The Guardian’s article dismisses Charles Bovary as “boring,” which I won’t argue about.  But he’s also a good man who loves his wife and daughter and does his best to make a living for them. A physician, he unwisely allows a frenemy to talk him into performing an operation on a village youth, who was born with a clubfoot. He hopes the operation will help the youth to walk normally and gain him recognition and renown as a brilliant surgeon.

It’s easy for the reader to see where Flaubert is going with this subplot: Bovary, who’s not very bright, is incompetent to perform the operation and botches it. As a result, the youth who formerly walked with a limp develops gangrene, has to have his entire leg amputated, and can no longer work. In an age before public welfare and before legal remedies for medical malpractice, we can only imagine the young man’s fate.

As a lawyer who knows many excellent and caring physicians and has enormous respect for the medical profession, I become very discouraged when I encounter distrust or antipathy on the part of some of the dedicated members of that profession–not to mention some in other occupations–toward those in my own. What can we do, I wonder, about this unfortunate state of affairs?

I’ve posted before on writers who are lawyers or who were trained in the law, as Flaubert was.  But there are also many doctors who are marvelous writers as well as some great doctor characters in literature. (Interestingly, Flaubert’s father was a doctor.)  Please check back later this week when I’ll have some reading suggestions regarding doctors in literature.

September 7, 2010

More on Lionel Shriver–and health care

Filed under: Books and writing,health care,Law,Read This!,reading — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
Tags: , ,

Yesterday I recommended Lionel Shriver’s novel, “The Post-Birthday World,” as part of my Read This! campaign.  But Shriver’s better known for her earlier, Orange Prize-winning novel, “We Need To Talk About Kevin.”

I hadn’t planned to read “Kevin,” despite its award and the generous praise it’s garnered, because of its subject matter, which includes a Columbine-like school massacre.  But when I picked it up to browse at the bookstore one day, the first page pulled me in immediately, through the voice of a mother who never bonded with and frankly dislikes her extraordinarily difficult child.

In her newest novel, “So Much For That,” Shriver criticizes the U.S. health care system.  The book was published on the eve of the passage of the federal law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) that’s supposed to improve it; in interviews, Shriver questions whether it will do so, asking “Can we continue to lavish this much money on what is really end-of-life care?” 

The new law probably doesn’t provide a definitive answer to Shriver’s question.  Quoting Springfield, IL lawyer Charles Y. Davis, I highlight (necessarily incredibly briefly) a couple of points from the 974-page statute to which businesses and lawyers will need to pay particular attention in the forthcoming issue of the Illinois Bar Journal for October 2010.

 Have you ever decided to read a book that initially repelled you?  If so, did you end up liking it, or were you sorry you’d spent your time on it?

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