White Coat, Black Art

Medicine's Murky Past

Taking stock of medicine's past through the eyes of the present.
Dr. Stanley Burns in The Burns Archive (Dawna Dingwall)

This week on White Coat Black Art: two stories that take us back to the origins of modern medicine. White Coat's senior producer Dawna Dingwall made a house call to Dr. Stanley Burns.

Dr. Burns is an ophthalmologist, surgeon and historian who lives right near Grand Central Station in Manhattan. His three story home - is nondescript from the outside. There's a tiny sign on the door that says Burns Archive but inside is one of the largest and most important photographic archives of early medical history in the world.

Currently Dr. Burns serves as the medical and historical adviser to The Knick, a hit HBO series.

Then Dr. Brian Goldman talks to Dr. Baron Lerner, one of medicine's foremost doctor-bioethicists. His latest book, The Good Doctor takes a look back at some of his doctor-father's ethically questionable medical decisions. His book begins in the 1960's with an up-and-coming American doctor named Philip Lerner, a highly respected expert and researcher in infectious diseases.

From the seventies until 2007, Lerner wrote incredibly detailed journals about his patients and about the sometimes controversial decisions he made on their behalf. Those notes might never have seen the light of day until they were read and turned into a searing new book by his son Dr. Barron Lerner, physician, medical historian and bioethicist. You may remember Barron Lerner from our show from last season on celebrity medicine. From the first page, Barron Lerner paints a picture of his father as a talented yet complex physician who in ethical terms played by rules that today are considered startlingly offside.

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