STMS Conference 2024: Abstracts

Here is our comprehensive list of conference abstracts, compiled in order based on when they are discussed in our program.

“The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Prospect of Radical Physicians”

Fionnúir Ní Chochlain (University of Pennsylvania)

The Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) provided urgent medical care and support to civil rights activists throughout the 1960s and 1970s. As the organization developed, it struggled to reconcile conventional medical practices with the demands of radical activism. Structures of medical power and traditions of racism, sexism, capitalism, and discrimination within American medicine shaped MCHR’s activism and its relationship with the civil rights movement overall. The hierarchy inherent in medicine manifested in the work of the MCHR through negotiation and conflict over race, mistreatment of nurses by physicians and administrators, and the expectation of authority by Northern elite physicians over Southern physicians, civil rights workers, and students. In practice, free health clinics created by health activist organizations exhibited varying commitments to uplifting patient autonomy and challenging capitalism in medicine. While medical activists improved the lives of patients and supported the gains of Freedom Summer, further analysis is required to depict an accurate image of their legacy and determine if and how their work lived up to the goals of radical equality while sourcing volunteers from the health professions. Health activist organizations may end up recreating the same dynamics of inequality and prejudice that they set out to dismantle, and highlighting the contradictions of historical health activism movements ensures that accounts of their contributions are accurate and honest, and describe both their vital role in improving healthcare access as well as their problematic shortcomings.

“Conscientious Objection in Healthcare and Ethical Considerations for Gender-affirming Care Practices”

Jessica Baptista (University of Toronto)

This paper critically examines conscientious objection policies in Canada and their impact on transgender and gender-diverse patients seeking gender-affirming care. Despite contemporary policies advocating for patient’s rights to access gender-affirming care, patients encounter numerous financial, social, and otherwise practical barriers when attempting to access these essential services. Conscientious objection in healthcare further prevents transgender and gender-diverse individuals from accessing care that they are entitled to. In this paper I will employ Beauchamp and Childress’s biomedical ethics framework to defend the claim that accommodating physicians in their conscientious objection to providing gender-affirming care is morally impermissible as it creates additional barriers that impede patient access to gender-affirming care and permits an unsafe space where patients risk discrimination. To establish the ethical impermissibility of accommodating conscientious objection, I will begin by reviewing current conscientious objection and gender-affirming care policies in Canada, highlighting existing gaps and challenges within the current healthcare system. Next, I will outline the key considerations of biomedical ethics and use this framework to prove that there is an ethical obligation for physicians to provide gender-affirming care. I will then respond to arguments emphasizing the significance of physician moral integrity by asserting that objection to providing gender-affirming care is not an act of moral integrity but an act of discrimination. This perspective aims to establish a clear distinction between moral integrity and actions that perpetuate discriminatory practices in healthcare.

“Naturopathic Medicine and Conventional Medicine: The Historical Debate of Vaccinations”

Hannah Ireland Brett (University of Toronto)

Naturopathic and conventional medicine have created heated debates over the supremacy of medical practice; prominent most notably, following the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the dominance of social media platforms, and political tension, polarization of opinions toward vaccinations have spiraled in conversation. Debates of mandatory vaccinations have moved away from the discussion of medical opinions, and towards the dislikes surrounding industry practices; ultimately diluting any possibility of consensus, and consolidation. One of the prime arguments around vaccinations in the past year has been in consideration of the possible side effects vaccines have on children, and their overall health. This study will investigate the historical influence on naturopathic and conventional medicine, and the application historical impact has on modern, medical, scientific, debates. The broader arguments around vaccinations, and in such medicine, stem from the influence and impact institutions, as well as individuals have had on the progression of the world as a whole. The arguments this study will make include the impact of colonialism on the individual credibility of medicinal practices, the influences of industrialization on the organization of conventional medicine, and the evolution of modernity in current conversations around vaccinations. Altogether medicine, and in such science, have been created and progressed by the influence of a multitude of societal factors; investigation into the history around how different avenues of medical practises emerge, and where the demographic of supporters lie, breaks down and gives comprehension to the current debates around vaccinations.

Maternal ADHD: Hypervisibility, Invisibility, and the Idea of the Good Mother

Emma Martel (University of King’s College)

This paper investigates how mothers with adult ADHD are impacted by social norms of motherhood, suggesting that both invisibility and hypervisibility affect the experience of mothers with ADHD. The paper interrogates the self-sacrificing ‘good mother’ ideal that prioritizes the needs of the child in a way which reinforces the idea that women with ADHD are mothers first and disabled women second. Furthermore, this standardization of good parenting creates intensive standards that can disadvantage women with ADHD. Often undiagnosed and overlooked due to the invisible nature of their disability, women with ADHD feel as though they are falling short of the ‘good mother’ ideal. The paper also aims to investigate the impact of hypervisibility in disabled motherhood. This involves reviewing the concept of ‘scientific motherhood’, which upholds ideas of normalcy and pathologizes various maternal behaviours. ADHD is a genetically linked disorder, which makes it an obstacle to the goals of scientific motherhood’s normalcy project. The status and legitimacy of disabled women as mothers is called into question by this idea of normalcy, with disabled women often being discouraged from having children who may carry on their inherited disabilities. Examining a variety of qualitative and personal accounts of disabled motherhood, this paper concludes that ADHD holds unique challenges as an invisible disability, while sharing in the problems of hypervisibility that arise from other forms of disability. The suggested solution to this issue is a re-evaluation of what we see as normal, with the intention of removing additional pressures placed on disabled women in their experiences of motherhood.

“The Backlash Revisited: The Social Media Age

Isabella Reny (University of Toronto)

Social media and the current technological institutions shape our interaction with politics to an incredible amount. It creates changes in and our emotional responses, while also creating and fostering biases within us. The way we act online and the platforms we use inform how we engage in politics, and how users have become radicalised towards extremist conservative politics. The culture of the internet and the structure of actions online push users towards conservative radicalisation and fosters political backlashes against women and other minorities. The most pressing question we must answer as users of social media is how we can mitigate these resurgences in conspiracy and fear, and I believe this can be answered by looking at previous backlashes. As a comparative perspective, I will discuss at length Susan Faludi’s book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, which documented how political backlashes operated against women in the 1980s, and its comparison to modern political backlashes online. A perfect example of this takes us to the current Q-Anon conspiracy theory and how the internet affected radicalisation via social media algorithms and the fostering of anti-social tendencies among social media users.

“Sensory World-Making in Humanitarian Audiology

Alex McLean (University of Toronto)

With national concern of hearing loss as a threat to public health in Northern Canada, interventions have emerged to address its prevalence amongst Inuit youth. The Better Hearing in Education for Northern Youth project was founded in 2008, seeking to expand the infrastructure necessary for the implementation of audiological services. Audiological technologies such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, frequency modulation (FM) systems require specific infrastructures in order to operate, including expert knowledge. The technological expertise required for functionality creates dependence on outside entities while undermining local agency. Drawing on scholarship from STS, disability studies, and settler-colonial theory, I examine technology as a form of governmentality, embodying the histories and future desires of colonial institutions. Through semi-structured interviews with audiologists in the Canadian Arctic, this research explores the kinds of relations and dependencies that unfold through the development of clinical infrastructures. How does power materialize through these infrastructures? How does technology shape power dynamics between Inuit peoples and the settler-colonial state? The deployment of medical technologies as humanitarian goods often obscures the boundary between care and control. Hearing technologies are not only connected to ideas of language development but the modernization of local social and cultural worlds. By “breaking the sound barrier,” hearing technologies hold the potential to transform relationships and reshape social worlds, interpellating multiple actors, including the state, manufacturing companies, audiologists, pediatricians, Inuit families and deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Technology not only stimulates the senses—but activates relationships, everyday routines, and future desires.

“Constructing malnutrition: dams, technoscience, and food aid in Cochabamba, Bolivia”

Sydney Coldren (Rice University)

In the highland Indigenous community of Misicuni, Bolivia, malnutrition is a relatively new phenomenon. After construction began on the Proyecto Multiple Misicuni dam in 1998, the agricultural community that lived in water abundance for centuries watched as the rich ecosystem used for subsistence farming dried up, effectively creating a food desert. Since 2020, children in Misicuni have received donations of multivitamins and fortified powdered milk from international corporations, alongside fresh produce from small farms. These donations aim to provide all the essential nutrients missing from the children’s diet while the land that historically provided these nutrients withers away beneath their feet. Drawing on three months of ethnographic field work at the food bank that provides alimentary assistance and collects extensive medical data on the children in Misicuni, I aim to historicize the delocalization of foodways in Misicuni within a larger transformation in the social and scientific understandings of what it means to be nourished. Furthermore, as the children in Misicuni become part of a complex network of doctors, food bankers, and multinational corporations, these scientific means of alleviating malnutrition and tracking the success of the food bank’s efforts sustain a new infrastructure of global philanthropy that further legitimizes the dam’s existence. Through this analysis, I assess how a biomedical understanding of nutrition and a scientific approach to wellness serve to naturalize malnutrition in Misicuni while obscuring the structural factors contributing to its endurance.

“Machinations of Desire: Suicidal or Apathetic Resistance to Biopower Within a Biology of Desire”

Luke Krikorian (University of Toronto)

How do we know something is alive? The simplicity of this question obscures its consequence: biology is predicated upon an answer. Can biology provide a satisfactory answer? Philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Deleuze and Guattari, and Jacques Derrida, alongside theoretical biologists like Maturana and Varela, Hans Jonas, and Ezequiel Di Paolo, have complicated the possibility of an objective (i.e., scientific) criterion of life. Some of these thinkers reassert a teleological conception of life, suggesting that living things must necessarily care about themselves: a living thing must desire to live. I will examine biologist François Jacob’s failed attempt at a non-teleological criterion of life, arguing that the teleological criterion of desire haunts any attempt to scientifically ground biology. I will then examine the political implications of a biology of desire within biopolitical regimes. Michel Foucault describes biopower, the predominant form of power today, as that which is concerned with managing and promoting life. Foucault argues that biopower forms, and is formed by, scientific discourses on life. If biological discourse (implicitly or otherwise) asserts that all living things desire to live, where does this leave those who are suicidal or apathetic to their own existence? I will argue that suicidal or apathetic subjects are unintelligible to biopower, and conclude by interrogating this unintelligibility as a potential site of resistance to biopower.

“Constructing the Ab/Normal: The Cross-Cultural Contexts of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Diagnostic Tools”

Pallavi Rao (University of Pennsylvania)

The current progress in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research has analyzed how cultural differences affect perceptions of the ASD label, health-seeking behaviors, and the utilization of resources. The lack of research on how ASD is diagnosed in families with differing perceptions of social behavior prompts the question: how does social deficiency operate differently cross-culturally, and what effect does the predominant Western perspective have? This project utilizes sociological survey data and interviews with parent-teen dyads to ascertain the connection between perceived social deficiency by ASD measurement tool standards and assimilation to Westernized culture in immigrant families. Participants were administered the Vancouver Index of Acculturation (VIA) and the Social Responsiveness Scale -2 (SRS-2). It was found that although quantitative data analysis did not report a significant difference between immigrant and non-immigrant probands on the SRS-2, the interview highlighted themes of social divergence as a product of cultural understanding rather than ASD. These results are indicative of the benefit of a mixed-methods approach, and hint at the role of culturally-situated classifications of social behavior. This study speaks to the Western construction of social normative behavior in diagnostic tools, and seeks to re-conceptualize ASD based on cultural variations and the process of socialization.

“Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and Income Inequality”

Pooja Ajit (University of Toronto)

This essay addresses the question of how Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) could exacerbate income inequality and what policy interventions might manage this effect. It argues that AGI will likely intensify income inequality through its impact on the job market; however, implementing regulations and retraining workers could mitigate these effects. AGI systems mirror human problem-solving, so they can adapt to their environment and make situational judgments. The essay explores how AGI might increase unemployment, alter the labour-capital Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio, and lead to uneven profit distribution. It evaluates the effectiveness of government-funded upskilling and educational reforms in addressing income inequality due to AGI, highlighting these interventions as essential for equipping the workforce with skills to coexist with and benefit from AGI. Lastly, it discusses the role of licensing and taxation in regulating AGI and promoting ethical income redistribution. These are seen as necessary tools for regulating AGI deployment and ensuring a more ethical distribution of income. The essay advocates for a multi-pronged approach, combining education and regulation, to manage the potential increase in inequality due to AGI.

“Scientific Realism Beyond Rigid Semantics”

Kai Zhang (University of Toronto)

Scientific realism posits that our best scientific theories provide true, or at least approximately true, descriptions of the external world. For scientific realists, the truth of scientific statements explains their success, and thus a theory of truth is required to make this explanation substance. Traditionally, scientific realism adopts a correspondence theory of truth complemented by what I refer to as “rigid semantics” (following Mark Wilson’s 2017 book), which assumes that if a term successfully picks out some property in the external world, it should always refer to this property across all contexts. I criticize rigid semantics as insufficient to capture the complex relationship between scientific terms and their referents, suggesting that those who take scientific practice seriously should abandon it and move to a non-rigid form of scientific realism. To make the point, I delve into an example of the scientific term “force”, which has mutually irreducible yet related referents, expanding on Wilson’s bead-on-a-wire scenario. I further argue against four attempts to save rigid semantics. On a positive note, I also show how abandoning rigid semantics allows one to better make sense of scientific terms in a manner that meets realists’ needs. Finally, by identifying that most justification for rigid semantics comes from pure metaphysical assumptions lacking empirical support and showing that rejecting rigid semantics does not lead to anti-realism, I hope to motivate scientific realists who take seriously our scientific practice to abandon rigid semantics and move to a non-rigid form of scientific realism.

“The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Treatment on Visual Short-Term Memory in Parkinson’s Disease”

Aisha Ahmed (University of Toronto)

Current research on mindfulness therapy has revealed its potential to improve attention, memory, and other areas of cognition in healthy populations. Due to my interest in this fascinating new intervention, and after reviewing the literature to identify gaps in today’s mindfulness-based research, I decided to produce a research proposal investigating the effects of mindfulness-based treatment in improving visual short-term memory for Parkinson’s disease patients. Visual short-term memory is an area of deficit in Parkinson’s disease, making it important to test the potential of restorative treatments, such as mindfulness, to improve such deficits. This study compares two group’s (control and mindfulness treatment) accuracy in completing a visual short-term memory task, with both groups composed of Parkinson’s disease patients. Further, the EEG brain activity of both groups will be measured during the memory task to better understand the mechanisms by which mindfulness therapy potentially improves visual short-term memory. If results find a significant difference in accuracy between the two groups, this would provide evidence of mindfulness’s effectiveness in improving cognition within Parkinson’s disease, while also revealing its potential in treating similar memory deficits in other neurodevelopmental disorders.

“Recovering the Trust of a Nation: Revisiting Fanon in the fight for a Cholera-free Haiti”

Xiomara Jean-Louis (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Haiti’s history is convoluted and proud, with ailing institutions working to redistribute resources and quell recurring insurgencies, and decades of fraught attempts to normalize international relations with nations displeased with its excessive poverty and migrant flows. This informative history, despite the reverence it experiences in Black Studies and other academic inquiries, has seen little use in policymaking, particularly within programs expressly redressing crises beleaguering nations in the Global South. The same may be said of Frantz Fanon’s radical work which bridged medicine with a critique of institutions, power relations, and colonialism. In this paper, I argue that insights from Fanon’s essays in “A Dying Colonialism” could and ought to be applied to the United Nation’s belated and wearied mitigation framework against the U.N.-caused cholera epidemic in Haiti and further enriched by an analysis of Haiti’s past. Using examples of domestic resistance to medical intervention and sociopolitical unease towards the dueling priorities of cholera mitigation and militaristic gang violence suppression, I argue that Fanon’s unique analyses may provide the means to improve the U.N.’s humanitarian efforts in Haiti by reorienting policymaking towards holistic reviews of on-the-ground lived experiences and promulgating understandings of colonialism’s impact on North-South cooperation despite Northern reticence.

“Reconstructing Cross-cultural psychiatry with Actor-Network Theory”

Yuening Fu (University College London)

Cross-cultural psychiatry is a branch of psychiatry that focuses on the manifestations of mental illness in different cultural and ethnic contexts. Initially, under the widespread influence of colonialism and Western centralism, Western psychiatric diagnostic categories were universally applied across regions and ethnicities. Arthur Kleinman identified this discrimination and pioneered a “new cross-cultural psychiatry,” which promised respect for cultural differences and ethnic diversity. Therefore, the “new cross-cultural psychiatry” attempts to adopt an interdisciplinary research approach, but in essence it is polarized into clinical medicine/psychology and social sciences and adopts different research methods and conclusions. More importantly, the research object of cross-cultural psychiatry itself is fluid and complex, evolving with globalization and modernization. Behind this, there are also different interest groups, such as pharmaceutical companies, that are involved in influencing the discourse that interprets knowledge. I think it is not advisable to separate it into different disciplines and study it is using independent methodologies. In this mixed issue of knowledge, benefit, controversy and power, I propose to adopt Latour’s network stance and Actor-Network Theory towards cross-cultural psychosis. Each agent is an actor in the network. Agents are humans: individual people and institutions, and they are also non-human: human brains, neurons, and DNA. The article is divided into three parts, 1): Introduction the history to new cross-cultural psychiatry; 2): Criticism of independent discipline methodology using Latour’s stance; 3) Reconstruction using Latour’s network stance.