Conference Agenda

10C: Cancer and Miracle Cures in the Twentieth Century
Friday, 10/Sept/2021:
3:00pm - 4:15pm

Session Chair: Dr. Noortje Jacobs, U of Rotterdam, Netherlands


The Making of Modern Oncology through Faith in Science: radiation treatment and diagnostics of patients with brain tumors in Canada in the second half of 20th century

Razumenko, Fedir

University of Calgary, Canada

Tracing the development of new approaches of radiation treatment and diagnostics to cerebral tumors in Canada, I investigate how local and international uncertainties of the dose, frequency, and mode of delivery of radiation found their solutions in the clinic and beyond. Since neurooncological malignancies defied therapy throughout this period, cancer clinical trials became sites of experimental research involving patients, producing ethical dilemmas for both physicians and researchers. I examine the role of new institutions, funding bodies, technological innovations, and debates over professional authority among physicians, physicists, and radiotherapists. All of these contributed to the evolution of standardizing units of radiation exposure during treatment and diagnostics. Investigators studied biological effects of radiation doses and transitioned from ‘r.e.b.a.’ and “rem” to “rad” and finally to Gray, the SI unit of the absorbed dose of ionizing radiation commonly used today. In this process, radiotherapy was considerably overused, and years later, the sequelae came home to haunt the patients along with clinicians. Late iatrogenics continued to be a major factor in clinical decision-making, though in the 1990s it was so because of improved cure rates and considerably increased number of long-term survivors. Consequently, radiation oncologists began considering the quality of life evolving from cancer care and cancer itself in addition to the quantity of life. Exploring developments in neurooncological clinical trials over the second half of the twentieth century, I have the objective to demonstrate how and why a cultural shift to clinical investigation that became more patient-oriented was made.

Reflections on hell, faith and miracle cures: religion and burns injury in twentieth-century Britain

Reinarz, Jonathan

U Birmingham, Great Britain, United Kingdom

This paper will explore the Christian religious tradition and its survival in terms of the way in which burns injuries have historically been described by the public and the press, in popular discourses, as well as medical publications and policy statements in twentieth-century Britain. It begins by considering the incident which initially caused a burns injury, not limited to Christian ceremonies involving fire. It discusses the period of treatment immediately following injury, often marked by considerable pain and debility, and described by many survivors, religious or not, as the closest they came to experiencing hell on earth.

In contrast, the latter periods of recovery and rehabilitation are less often association with fiery landscapes and sadistic healers, but miracle cures and guardian angels. In terms of coping with recovery, patients continue to credit their religious faith or belief in God. Given the power of such imagery, depictions of purgatory recur in fire awareness campaigns. Representations of burned individuals are also associated with religious tropes, not least that of martyrs, though scarring has encouraged associations with film villains and an evil nature. As the influence of the Christian religious tradition on the ethics of burns care continues to be overlooked, this paper concludes with an exploration of the religiously inspired ethics of Dr Douglas Jackson, a leader in the field of British burns medicine, who ran the Burns Unit at Birmingham Accident Hospital (1950s-70s), was an early President of the Christian Medical Fellowship and chaired of the BMA’s Central Ethics Committee.