A physi­cian for the ages

The Univer­sity of Toronto re­mem­bers Nor­man Bethune’s legacy with a sculp­ture and gala.

China Daily (Canada) - - SPECIAL -

pol­i­tics – judged him harshly, dis­miss­ing him as too im­pul­sive to be con­sid­ered a great sur­geon.

An ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Bethune’s life and legacy be­gan to emerge with the rap­proche­ment be­tween Canada and the People’s Repub­lic of China in 1970. Two years later the Cana­dian govern­ment of­fi­cially rec­og­nized his his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance: the manse in Graven­hurst where he was born was pur­chased by Parks Canada and in 1976 be­came a na­tional mu­seum. The same year, Place Nor­manBethune [Bethune Square] was cre­ated in down­town Mon­treal, dom­i­nated by a replica of the statue in Shi­ji­azhuang do­nated by the Chi­nese govern­ment. In 1979, the for­ti­eth an­niver­sary of his death was marked by cer­e­monies in both China and Canada, in­clud­ing a three-day con­fer­ence at McGill Univer­sity.

A more com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of Bethune’s ac­com­plish­ments fol­lowed, be­gin­ning in 1982 as the Cana­dian and Chi­nese gov­ern­ments agreed to ex­change copies of documents and ar­ti­facts. Since then, a large vol­ume of additional Cana­dian, Chi­nese and Span­ish sources have been brought to light. Nu­mer­ous books and ar­ti­cles have been pub­lished, in­clud­ing sev­eral sub­stan­tial bi­ogra­phies, along with many pho­to­graphs and ex­am­ples of Bethune’s art­work, letters, lit­er­ary and sci­en­tific writ­ings.

By the cen­te­nary of Bethune’s birth in 1990, he was be­com­ing bet­ter known and re­garded in his home­land. Com­mem­o­ra­tive postage stamps were jointly is­sued by Canada and China, and his life – al­ready the sub­ject of a doc­u­men­tary and tele­vi­sion pro­grams – was chron­i­cled in a fea­ture film star­ring long-time Bethune ad­mirer, Don­ald Suther­land. In 1998 he was in­ducted into the Cana­dian Med­i­cal Hall of Fame, and in Au­gust 2000 a bronze sculp­ture was un­veiled in front of the Graven­hurst Opera House by the town’s mayor, Gover­nor Gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son, and the Chi­nese am­bas­sador. Dr. Nor­man Bethune had fi­nally come home.

In the lobby of the Med­i­cal Sci­ences Build­ing at the Univer­sity of Toronto, a bilin­gual English–Man­darin plaque hon­our­ing “Dr. Henry Nor­man Bethune” for his work in China is promi­nently dis­played along with trib­utes to sev­eral other he­roes of the Fac­ulty of Medicine in­clud­ing Bant­ing and Best. In 2000, the Fac­ulty’s Of­fice of In­ter­na­tional Surgery es­tab­lished a Bethune Round Ta­ble, an an­nual con­fer­ence on surgery in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in­spired by his hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts in Spain and China.

This global vi­sion is per­haps Bethune’s most en­dur­ing legacy to the Fac­ulty of Medicine at the Univer­sity of Toronto and to the world. From its ear­li­est years and well into the 20th century, there was a strong mis­sion­ary el­e­ment within the Fac­ulty, with many of its grad­u­ates serv­ing in for­eign lands or in the Cana­dian north. Al­though pro­foundly in­flu­enced by his evan­gel­i­cal Pres­by­te­rian par­ents, Bethune’s cru­sades were mo­ti­vated by a pas­sion­ate hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism rather than faith. In her bi­og­ra­phy of Bethune, Adri­enne Clark­son re­marks on the irony of his be­ing viewed as “Canada’s great­est mis­sion­ary” through his ser­vice (and sac­ri­fice) in China. In­stead, this vi­sion­ary cre­ated a new model of med­i­cal aid. “In his two in­ter­sec­tions with world his­tory, Bethune seemed to know what new di­rec­tions so­cial forces were tak­ing and how he could in­flu­ence them. He made his­tory. … He put him­self into events be­fore there was any or­ga­nized in­ter­ven­tion.”

Bethune’s med­i­cal hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism lives on in emer­gency aid or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Médecins Sans Fron­tières as well as nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional and global health ini­tia­tives world­wide. The Fac­ulty of Medicine has be­come in­creas­ingly en­gaged in these ac­tiv­i­ties in re­cent years. Global health is a core com­mit­ment of the new Dalla Lana School of Pub­lic Health, es­tab­lished in 2008 at the Univer­sity of Toronto, and a grow­ing area of fo­cus in other de­part­ments.

Bethune’s med­i­cal in­no­va­tions have been sim­i­larly far-reach­ing. Al­though most of the in­stru­ments he de­vised for chest surgery have since been ren­dered ob­so­lete by ad­vances in the treat­ment of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, his in­tro­duc­tion of mo­bile blood trans­fu­sion ser­vices at the bat­tle front rep­re­sents an en­dur­ing con­tri­bu­tion to mil­i­tary medicine. His pro­posal for uni­ver­sal health care, con­sid­ered so rev­o­lu­tion­ary dur­ing the 1930s, would even­tu­ally be adopted in Canada and many other coun­tries. Ed­ward Shorter is the Ja­son A. Han­nah Pro­fes­sor, His­tory of Medicine, at the Univer­sity of Toronto. The Univer­sity of Toronto’s Fac­ulty of Medicine will cel­e­brate the legacy of Dr. Nor­man Bethune with the in­stal­la­tion of a bronze sculp­ture in his like­ness at their St. Ge­orge Cam­pus on May 30 and dur­ing the Nor­man Bethune Gala on May 31. For more in­for­ma­tion about the gala, please visit www. bethunegala.com.



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