Blog | Thursday, February 12, 2009

Making medicine politically correct

Here at ACP Internist we've had occasional debates about the PCing of medical writing. For example, patient advocacy groups would have one say "people with diabetes" instead of "diabetics" so as not to make the disease more of a focus than the person. But when you're writing about diabetes, and therefore, only mentioning said anonymous, unnamed person because they have diabetes, is it not socially acceptable, and vastly less cumbersome, to refer to him or her as a diabetic?

As the NY Times reports today, the International Longevity Center has raised the standard of PC medical language even further by publishing a list of forbidden synonyms for "old." Not only should we not refer to those with more chronological life experience than us as "coots" or "hags," but "elderly" and "senior citizen" are also to be axed. The experts suggest instead the problematically nonspecific (from a medical writer's perspective) term "older adult."

As one commenter to the NYT article noted, would not our effort be better spent trying to correct the pejorative connotations associated with being "elderly" or--to continue the parallel, the negative consequences of being "diabetic"--than repeatedly changing the terminology? After all, how long did it take for "special education" to go from polite euphemism to children's insult?