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Dr. James Burt believed women’s bodies were broken, and only he could fix them. In the 1950s, this Ohio OB-GYN developed what he called “love surgery,” a unique procedure he maintained enhanced the sexual responses of a new mother, transforming her into “a horny little house mouse.” Burt did so without first getting the consent of his patients. Yet he was allowed to practice for over thirty years, mutilating hundreds of women in the process.
It would be easy to dismiss Dr. Burt as a monstrous aberration, a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein. Yet as medical historian Sarah Rodriguez reveals, that’s not the whole story. The Love Surgeon asks tough questions about Burt’s heinous acts and what they reveal about the failures of the medical establishment: How was he able to perform an untested surgical procedure? Why wasn’t he obliged to get informed consent from his patients? And why did it take his peers so long to take action?
The Love Surgeon is both a medical horror story and a cautionary tale about the limits of professional self-regulation.
About the Author
SARAH B. RODRIGUEZ is a medical historian at Northwestern University in the Global Health Studies Program, the Department of Medical Education, and the Graduate Program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics. Her teaching and research focuses on the history of reproduction, clinical practice, and research ethics. Her publications include the book Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States: A History of a Medical Practice.
"The Love Surgeon is an important, riveting story that has great relevance to contemporary issues in medical ethics and science policy. Rodriguez has drawn on a broad range of sources to create a lively and engaging book."
— Heather Munro Prescott
"We need thoughtful medical historians to counter assumed narratives, and Sarah Rodriguez proves exactly why journalists’ accounts fail us. Taking the normative account of a 'love surgeon,' Rodriguez weaves a brilliant accounting of medical regulation and the structure of surgical innovation with journalists’ responses to a seemingly 'one off' horror story of the medicalizing of women’s bodies and patients’ experiences. She provides an exemplary history of medicine book that ought to be read and taught widely."
— Susan M. Reverby
"The Love Surgeon is a brilliant exposition of the hazards of medical entrepreneurship and the 'consumerification' of American health care. Sarah Rodriguez tells us the intertwined stories of James Burt, a gynecological surgeon skilled at self-promotion, the patients who trusted him, and the colleagues who tried to stop him. She documents, with perceptive, sobering detail, how existing traditions of informed consent and medical self-regulation failed to rein in this self-styled 'Love Doctor.' By showing why it took so long to get Burt’s medical license revoked, Rodriguez exposes problems with medical self-governance and patient education that still beset us. This book should be required reading for every new physician."
— Nancy Tomes
"New Books Network - New Books in Medicine" interview with Sarah B. Rodriguez
— New Books Network - New Books in Medicine
"Rodriguez does a commendable job of not just showing the development of the surgery, but how Burt’s views on sex influenced the procedure [and] also does an excellent job shining light on the problems women face when they must deal with a healthcare system dominated by men."
— Nursing Clio
"The Love Surgeon is a thought provoking read that raises critical? and sensitive issues in medicine. It allows readers to see themselves in Burt's surgeries, but also provides readers with critical historical insight into the intersections of health care, the law, and society."
— World Medical & Health Policy
"The book serves as a powerful reminder of the complexities and general messiness associated with complaints and disciplinary cases involving quality of care—qualities often exacerbated by the inherent system that seemed to expel closer scrutiny from its orbit with an almost centrifugal force. Burt’s victims suffered from similar feelings as well as a sense of personal shame at the damage wrought to their bodies."
— Journal of Medical Regulation