Bioethics/Medical Humanities


It was a short step from "Analgesia" to here.


This Performable Case Study (PCS) was created in my 1994 Medicine and Theater class at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine.



History and health care

Dramatic reading of ‘The Burial Society’ highlights Tuskegee syphilis experiment

By Katherine Gill Office of Communications and External Relations

As part of an innovative bioethics seminar, nine Wake Forest graduate students in the Master of Arts in Bioethics Program recently performed “The Burial Society” — a case study representing the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis, an experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Heath Service from 1932 to 1972.

“The Burial Society” script is based on research published in James H. Jones’ book, “Bad Blood, The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,” which documents the case of researchers who failed to treat sick, African-American men with penicillin after the drug was discovered to be an effective cure for syphilis.

Based on historical statements from the 1942 debate in Macon County, Ala., that resulted in the decision to withhold treatment, “The Burial Society” was performed to a standing-room only audience. The seminar students spoke in the personae of doctors, scientists and study participants and their families, chanting their lines without emotion.

“The performable case study is a ‘literary form’ inspired by Platonic dialogue and designed to promote critical moral reflection on complex issues,” says Richard Robeson, a Wake Forest professor of bioethics. “Any emotions viewers might experience from a presentation of this kind are incidental or coincidental to the stimulus of critical reflection and analysis.”

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Another PCS created at UNC,and having a second life at WFU. It will have yet another life in the coming months. Stay tuned

Published: May 14, 2012

Making bioethics personal

Interdisciplinary class turns a case study into a radio play

By Stephanie Skordas Office of Communications and External Relations


“It’s opened my eyes to the way healthcare works and the kinds of decisions that doctors and patients need to make together,” Cecile Vocelle (’13), a communication major said. “Turning a real case study into a play makes it feel so personal.”

The students in Comm 370 spent the spring semester studying bioethics while also enhancing their communication skills by learning how to perform the material as a radio play.

“The class is interdisciplinary, a joint venture between the Wake Forest School of Medicine and the Department of Communication,” said Michael Hyde, University Distinguished Professor of Communication. “We’re making undergraduates aware of the kinds of bioethics decisions they may be facing in the future.”

The case study the students performed involves the decision to implant a pig’s heart into one of five patients – all have varying ages and socio-economic backgrounds but each has an illness that make a transplant necessary. The play makes it clear that the surgeon and an internal review board have two big decisions to make. One, should an experimental transplant of a pig’s heart into a human be considered, and two, which patient should receive the lifesaving organ?

Richard Robeson, adjunct assistant professor of bioethics with the Wake Forest University Center for Bioethics, Health and Society, said combining medicine and theater makes the material come alive for students. He coined the term “dramatic arts casuistry” to describe this method of teaching bioethics.

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