Cancer and secrecy in contemporary India
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In examining the secrecy around cancer in India, I develop recent anthropological work on how practices of medical non-disclosure grow out of contextually rooted notions of care. I extend the insights of this work in rejecting the framing of non-disclosure as a sign of cultural lack. But while much of this recent literature on biomedical non-disclosure is framed as a critique of bioethics, I am concerned here with describing the complexity of the lived experience in between disclosure and non-disclosure. Paying attention to this processual nature of non-disclosure reveals how it does not operate as a binary choice between concealing and revealing, and consequently, knowing or not knowing. Instead, I argue that weaving between disclosure and non-disclosure allowed my interlocutors to inhabit the space of the ‘as-if’—of living in a subjunctive tense. Living in the subjunctive made possible brief respites from the real, even as such respite often turned out to be temporary, and the as-if never really escaped the grasp of the actual. Finally, I suggest finally that what one tells, to whom, and when reveal how the burden of cancer is distributed across social networks, vitally shaping possibilities and trajectories for cancer treatment and care.
KeywordsCancer India Secrecy Concealment Non-disclosure Ethics
My thanks to Sarah Pinto, Michael Fischer, Carlo Caduff, Harris Solomon, Cecilia Van Hollen, Molly McMullin, and three anonymous reviewers for their invaluable readings of prior drafts. Their suggestions went a long way in reshaping the argument of this piece. That said, I am responsible for any residual shortcomings.
Funding for this study was provided by Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (Grant No. 1123850) and by Wenner-Gren Foundation (US) (8363).
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