Medicine in film : a reflection on society's response to healthcare.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Medical Humanities


The subject of this dissertation is medicine in film, specifically how screenwriters and filmmakers dramatically present medical case studies and life-or-death scenarios in general release or made-for-television dramas, which can affect the public's perception of bioethical issues as well as its understanding of the medical humanities. The manner in which physicians and the healthcare delivery arena interact with patients and their families in film has changed significantly over the years. From a physician marrying his patient in Dark Victory to one assisting with a patient's self-induced death in The Suicide Tourist, films can demonstrate a dramatic change in how the public views the healthcare delivery system and its perception of the role of physicians. As society changes its views and perceptions, films that deal with this subject matter change as well. This dissertation argues that films mirror society; specifically, films based on bioethical issues and the medical humanities reflect the changing mores, values and priorities of the American people towards medicine and healthcare delivery. Film is a powerful medium. When film is coupled with the dramatized narrative of death, disease and suffering, it raises questions, which screenwriters attempt to answer based on their own belief in how humanity should serve others. This dissertation also submits that parable of the Good Samaritan has the capacity to touch anyone dedicating their careers to serving others in healthcare. Even if one has never heard the parable, its message is the guiding principle that drives one's vocation to help patients, most of whom will remain perfect strangers. Its lesson is one of humility borne out of the recognition that no matter how hard one labors throughout a career, one will never have an exact count of the lives touched. Each film examined in this dissertation connects the screenwriter's and actor's efforts to imitate the Good Samaritan.