2015 - Julie Kutac, MA, PhD

Julie Kutac, PhDTitle of dissertation:  “Medicine’s Eschatological Narrative and the Challenge of Elder Suffering.”   
Dissertation Committee:  Anne Hudson Jones, PhD (Chair), Michele Carter, Ph.D., Cheryl Vaiani, Ph.D., Thomas Cole, PhD, and L. Lee Grumbles, MD.
Summary of Dissertation:
This dissertation uses texts and methods of the medical humanities to interrogate the troubled relationship between modern American medicine and the mystery of human suffering. Methods used include conceptual analysis, close reading and comparison of historical texts, and narrative interpretation. These methods connect seemingly discrete lines of inquiry to reveal hidden cultural assumptions that influence the biomedical enterprise, particularly with respect to the expectations that practitioners and patients have about medicine's functions, abilities, and goals. I argue that medicine's inability to respond to patient suffering is a feature of a broader myopia within the culture of medicine—namely, how medicine functions in religious ways. My focus led me to pay greatest attention to one particular religious feature—medicine's adoption of an eschatological narrative. This narrative works within medicine in such a way as to obfuscate the interpretive means available to practitioners. The hope encapsulated by the eschatological narrative is manifested through its promises of ever more sophisticated ways of controlling the body via technological advancement. The experience of suffering has little place within this exciting narrative; suffering is marginalized or silenced within the practitioner-patient encounter. Elders, whose bodies' natural decline most starkly challenges the narrative's promises, are also those whose suffering is often neglected. Elder suffering helps simultaneously teach about the challenge of suffering and the eschatological narrative's limits. After chronicling the narrative's historical development, I demonstrate how the humanist project is particularly suited for developing ways of engaging with elder suffering. The medical humanities give means for cultivating habits of being that resist the eschatological narrative's limiting nature. Studying and practicing the humanities can equip the practitioner with creative ways of engaging the breadth of humanity, its multiple sources of suffering, and the particular ways that aging can be experienced.

Julie, a native Texan, most recently taught in Prague, Czech Republic. Julie obtained a B.S. in Molecular Biology from Texas Lutheran University, and continued her interdisciplinary focus at Rice University, earning a M.A. in Religious Studies. Her academic interests lie in the consideration of ethical issues at the juncture of science, medicine, religion, and philosophy. She also has a specific interest in geriatrics and the lived experience of cognitive degeneration. A coloratura soprano, Julie loves to spend her free time singing.   She currently works for the Alzheimer’s Association, Houston and Southeast Chapter.  In May 2015, she was awarded her PhD in Medical Humanities.    

2006 - William Bennett Bean Scholarship in the Medical Humanities
2006 - The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi
2007 - Dean's Service Scholarship Award
2007 - Peyton and Lydia Schapper Endowed Scholarship Award
2008 - Peyton and Lydia Schapper Endowed Scholaarship Award
2009 - 2009 John D. and Mary Ann Stobo Award in Oslerian Medicine

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