Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dr. Jay Katz – Z"L

Reading today's obituary page of The New York Times (which we have delivered every morning out here in Pasadena), I saw that Jay Katz died on Monday. As I read the obit, I didn't realize at first that they were referring to the Jay Katz whose book I had read some time ago and so much appreciated.

I have devoted this blog to Korzybski, his work, and related matters. The work of Jay Katz, a humane and extensional physician, definitely qualifies as one of those related matters. I read his book 'The Silent World of Doctor and Patient' years ago, have it on my book shelf, and recommend it to everyone interested in general semantics and clear, sane evaluating in relation to medical issues.

As a young German Jew, he escaped from Nazi Germany just before World War II. After he became a physician, he eventually focused on psychiatry and medical ethics. He was a working doctor and a working ethicist and he knew what he was talking about, i.e., he didn't indulge in idle, detached 'philosophical' chatter but engaged the most serious issues of medicine and life with the most serious of concerns. He was one of the physicians appointed to the federal panel to investigate the 1932 Tuskeegee Syphilis Study, done by the U.S. Public Health Service. When the panel's report came out describing the Tuskeegee experiments as "ethically unjustified," that wasn't good enough for Jay Katz. (The Tuskeegee researchers had purposely withheld treatment to 400 black men infected with syphilis.) Katz issued his own statement saying that the infected men had been "exploited, manipulated, and deceived." Jay Katz had 'guts'.

He believed that people's capacity for autonomy and self-determination were not unlimited but that physicians and researchers ought to do what they could to respect that capacity and encourage it. And they could do so through the medium of their conversations with their patients. If that isn't a worthy topic for general-semantics students to explore, I don't know what is.

Read the obituary Dr. Jay Katz, 86, Dies; Explorer of Ethics Issues. Read his book The Silent World of Doctor and Patient

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