Selzer & Kass Speak

Richard Selzer, in this video recorded interview, discussed “Brute,” a real account of how as a tired resident he sewed the ears of his drunken patient to the gurney to hold him still. Forty years later, he sighed, hesitating when I asked him about the incident:

As much as Selzer dislikes “Brute’s” interpretation, it has taken on a life of its own, continuing to bring a great deal of wrath upon him. It is taught in medical schools alongside William Carlos Williams' “Use of Force,” about a doctor’s aggressive examination of a girl infected with diphtheria. They are both integral to the evolving canon of literature and medicine, showing how the balance of power in the doctor-patient relationship can skew into the abusive.

“Brute.” The Doctor Stories. New York: Picador, 1998: 386-9.

In this 2004 telephone interview with Leon Kass, he speaks on Selzer’s legacy:

Leon Kass interview

“A man who lives with a knife, has his hands on organs, but preserves wonder and awe, is special.”

Leon Kass, Chairman of George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, 2002-5

Four of Selzer’s stories—more than any other living author—“Imelda,” “The Surgeon as Priest,” “Whither Thou Goest,” and “Witness,” appear in Being Human: Readings from the President’s Council on Bioethics, Washington D.C., 2003.