Saturday, 11 April 2015

Helen Rhee: Portrayal of Patients in Early Christian Writings

Portrayals of patients are examined in early Christian writings of Late Antquity (the second through the fifth centuries) in both private and philanthropic settings of care and cure. With the development of hospitals as public charities in the East in the late fourth century, the (limited) Christian sources reveal certain patterns of the expectations for and the role of patients under the treatments of doctors and the emerging institutions. As hospitals, known in various ways as nosokomeion, xenodocheion, or ptochotropheion,  had a dual aim of both spiritual and physical care (and cure, if possible), their patients, many destitute and helpless, were expected to conform to the moral and behavioral expectations upon their admission; their conformity to those expectations entitled them to various charitable services, particularly medical treatments and care. In the case of monastic patients, both their obligations and benefits were delicately negotiated in light of their calling to ascetic sanctity and disciplines. While the patients were expected to follow the doctors' prescriptions and counsels, their social status and economic means also accorded them varying degrees of control in relation to their physicians in  private settings. These expectations for and roles of the patients in the large context of physician-patient relationship and Christian institutions reflect destigmatization of illness and disease and a correspnding dignity of a patient on the one hand and point to an increasing control over and conformity by the patient on the other in the complex relationship with institutions, doctors, and monastics in Late Antiquity.

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