Health: Renee C. Fox, Rest in Peace

The Story:

One of the founders of the academic study of medical sociology, Renee C. Fox, passed away quietly last month at a hospice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was 92 years old and had long suffered from leukemia.


Fox graduated from Smith College in 1949, and earned her PhD in sociology from Harvard in 1954.

Fox’ first book was Experiment Perilous. Published in 1959, this was a close look at a tuberculosis sanatorium in which doctors not only treated patients but researched their condition. The goals of the two activities can of course conflict, as it may not be the case that the best treatment for a particular patient will be the course of action most revealing to researchers. Fox looked at this situation not in a muckraker’s spirit, but as a sociologist, investigating the contexts in which both patients and doctors found themselves.

In an interview in 1993 printed in The Washington Post, Fox complained that organ transplant had become “an ignoble form of medically rationalized cannabalism.”

In Pill Form:

Another concern central to Fox’s corpus — and one with great resonance today — is the emotional component of medical education, the effort to convey to prospective doctors a sense of “detached concern” that allows them to continue with work that would otherwise be impossibly draining.

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