Voices in Bioethics Recommendation

Don’t miss Arnold Relman’s “On Breaking One’s Neck” in the February 6th New York Review of Books. Relman is familiar as the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine from 1977-91, a keen observer of the health care policy scene, and as the husband of Marcia Angell, also a former NEJM editor.

Arnold Relman & Marcia Angell Image courtesy of the New York Times
Arnold Relman & Marcia Angell
Image courtesy of the New York Times

An otherwise healthy ninety year old, Relman tells his version of the “doctor as patient” story after breaking his breaking his neck in a fall at home. He details his medical and emotional path to recovery and offers some conclusions. Despite his decades in medicine and health care policy, Relman comes away from his experience with a new appreciation for the importance of nursing care and family support for the critically ill. As well, Relman is struck by how little his otherwise first rate team of physicians document how he appears or feels during his hospitalization and how rarely they speak to him. Rather, his physicians’ notes are largely limited to reporting test results. Relman also details the cost of his emergency and rehabilitative care.

Read it online at:


While at the NYRB site, you may also want to read Marcia Angell’s 2013 account of her father’s 1988 gunshot suicide in the face of prostate cancer beyond further treatment. Angell wrote this account in support of the Massachusetts’s physician-assisted dying ballot initiative that was defeated later that year.


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