Medical ethicists, human curiosities, and the new media midway

Steven H. Miles

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Medical ethicists have assumed a role in justifying public voyeurism of human "curiosities." This role has precedent in how scientists and natural philosophers once legitimized the marketing of museums of "human curiosities." At the beginning of the twentieth century, physicians dissociated themselves from entrepreneurial displays of persons with anomalies, and such commercial exhibits went into decline. Today, news media, principally on television, promote news features about persons that closely resemble the nineteenth century exhibits of human curiosities. Reporters solicit medical ethicists for soundbites to affirm the newsworthiness and propriety of public voyeurism of these medical stories. Ethicists' soundbites are usually ambiguous or self-evident and rarely enable viewers to morally engage the issues. The precedent of early twentieth century physicians disengaging from such exploitive public shows is a useful example for medical ethics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-43
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004


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