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meroberts's picture

Equally legitimate?

VGopinath, I think you bring up an interesting point here in your discussion of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: "And I know that this book is read by many medical students in this country but I think they do so more to increase awareness of how other cultures treat diseases and not to teach new doctors that they should allow an individual with epilepsy to go untreated because an equally legitimate perspective on the disease is that it is a form of communication with Gods."

I agree with you that this book is useful when teaching people (especially such objective and rational people as young doctors) about cultural differences and different culturally-influenced approaches to healing. However, the terms "equally legitimate perspective" stuck out to me in light of our discussion concerning objectivity/subjectivity. If within one single culture, or a subpopulation of that culture, there is a common, shared, yet subjective perspective which differs fundamentally from the commonly shared subjective perspective of another culture, are they equally legitimate? Surely one could not be deemed equally legitimate in the other society. For example, in the book, the Lees bring Lia to the hospital down the street from their house during her first epileptic seizure. However, the Lee's do not hold the same belief as the doctors and therefore discontinue Lia's medication on their own terms. Whether the poor treatment adherence is due to language barriers or differing cultural beliefs/perspectives is a highly debated issue which eventually becomes a nightmare for Lia's doctors. However, the point remains that Lia's condition worsened due to poor treatment adherence.

I don't believe that Lia's family would agree that Western medical practices share an equally legitimate perspective of Lia's seizures as their own shamanistic perspective. In fact, I think that it's hard to find any two cultures who do agree that they share an equally legitimate perspective on anything. As discussed in class, a culture's own subjectivity gets in the way of validating, or legitimizing, a different perspective held by another culture.

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