The Cautionary Tale of the Love Surgeon
From the New Books Network Podcast
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: A Story of Trust, Harm, and the Limits of Medical Regulation (Rutgers University Press, 2020) 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.
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.
Claire Clark is a medical educator, historian of medicine, and associate professor in the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine. She teaches and writes about health behavior in historical context.