Writer seeks to approach diseases in humane way

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Writer seeks to approach diseases in humane way

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Jeong Myeong-kyo

Amid the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak, some diagnosed patients refused to be quarantined, some doctors denied treatment to those suspected of having the illness and some relatives of people suffering from the disease have been isolated by society.

Consequently, “Infectious Diseases and Humanity” (2014), which was published a year ago, is seeing a resurgence in popularity.

Jeong Myeong-kyo, 57, a modern literature professor at Yonsei University who uses the pseudonym Jeong Gwa-ri, wrote in the book that infectious diseases cause instinctive reactions such as anxiety, fear, hatred and exclusion.

Q. How did you come up with the idea to look into infectious diseases from a humanistic perspective?

A. Infectious diseases have been a big issue in Korea because of AIDS, SARS and the novel swine-origin influenza. People have had trouble dealing with them, so I came to the conclusion that we need to look at them in a humanistic way that pursues communication between people.

Could you describe what meaning you can find by looking at diseases through this lens?

Doctors are people who treat diseases. But if they concentrate on the diseases, patients are less cared for. So we have to focus on the patients, the hosts of the virus. There are some doctors who try to see medical science from the perspective of humanity. For example, Ma Jong-gi, a poet and a doctor, established a group pursuing a convergence between literature and medical science.

What do you think about the MERS crisis in Korea?

I think transparency is a serious problem. [Refusing to be quarantined] shows that no one rakes responsibility for their own behavior, although the individual’s will is guaranteed.

Just like the tragic accident last year [the April sinking of the Sewol ferry, which killed more than 300 people], basic principles, social responsibility and kindness to others are absent [in our society].

Aren’t infectious diseases a subject often covered in literature?

“The Plague” (1947), written by Albert Camus, has the message that when human beings face a limit, they have to find a solution to overcome it instead of relying on illusion and superstition. A measure to protect others can cause inhumane treatment to patients through discrimination. So, infectious diseases are related to the issue of social responsibility.

BY BAEK IL-HYUN [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]

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