July 24, 2008

Who Owns Me?

There is a feature of disability that has to do with body integrity and ownership. For many of us, it stems from the multiplicity of medical tests and exams we experience over a lifetime that leave us feeling much like a slab of meat. It is a kind of medical victimization, if you will. It is, certainly for many, a traumatic experience

Laid out, exposed and feeling helpless at the hands of doctors and medical staffers can be nightmarish for many of us. As we mature, it is not unreasonable for us to consider the question: Who Owns Me? 

The physician-patient relationship has all the components of a power relationship. 

And, as is true of rape trauma, the patient/victim often feels the brunt of the effect, especially when the experience has been a bad one.

Bad because of fear and pain. Bad because of a sense of helplessness. Bad because of a sense that the experience can and will be repeated over again many times throughout one's lifetime.

So---'who owns me' becomes a gateway statement for one seeking healing from trauma and a return to a sense of personal agency and control over her body integrity and ownership. 

In some circles, the body is discussed in terms of property ownership. 
C. B. MacPherson (legal scholar) suggests that the concept of property resides and encompasses the notion of property as rights. Meaningful among males, certainly.

But, when one encounters a feminist perspective that points out property as inclusive of chattels, one begins to intuit a remnant concept of a woman's body and parts as somehow still within the male property/rights provenance.

Do we still think of men as rightfully possessive of women's bodies? Phyllis Schaffley does.

Does this notion transfer to the doctor-patient relationship, when the  doctor is male and the patient female? Is this one source of the nightmare some disabled suffer from? 

I don't know.

But I might suggest that the gender of the specific doctor has little bearing on the sentiment because the institution of medicine and its practice remains oriented to a masculine sensibility. Dissent from patients is often perceived as a cue for an aggressive or even bullying response from doctors---male or female. So, disabled patients, at their most vulnerable, often feel reticent to dissent from a physician's declaration of necessary testing or treatment.

I have learned, over the course of my lifetime, to take Nancy Reagan's advice when I am so moved, and 
'Just Say No'. 

Susan Brison contributing to Feminists Rethink the Self, Diana Tietjens Meyers, ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997) offers:
Reflecting on her own experience as the survivor of violent sexual assault, and drawing upon the narratives of holocaust survivors, ... [Brison] interweaves a phenomenological description of the sense of loss of self experienced by survivors of trauma, with philosophical analysis of different conceptions of selfhood-the self as body, the self as constituted by memory, the narrative conception of selfhood, and the autonomous self. The experience of loss of self, she contends, affects all these modalities of selfhood, showing the importance of each. Brison's account of self-recovery also brings out the inherent relationality of these modalities of selfhood-if others can violate a person's sense of bodily integrity and can radically undermine her sense of self, it is yet only through others prepared to listen to her narrative that the survivor of trauma can re-make herself. 
Brison's essay should be read as reflective analysis, rather than as an argument for a particular thesis, according to Catriona MacKenzie, McQuarrie University. 
And so it would seem that the isolation most of us with E. have experienced harms us and keeps us from healing. All the more reason for telling others about our experiences with epilepsy. Communication, socialization is vital to our improved mental and emotional well-being. 

It can also alleviate our concers over such haunting questions as "Who Owns Me?" 


angryyoungwoman said...

When I was taking classes, I found a poem that became my philosophy about epilepsy, medical treatment, body-ownership, etc. It's here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19753 (sorry, I don't remember the tags). I have had some really terrible experiences with doctors, but that just taught me that if I felt uncomfortable with a doctor, I would not see him/her and I would find one I was more comfortable with. I feel like all of my doctors now are on my side and working with me.

cripchick said...

thank you for posting this.