Editorial: King Tutankhamun, Modern Medical Science, and the Expanding Boundaries of Historical Inquiry
In an accompanying editorial, Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann, Arbor, writes that while new scientific techniques can provide interesting insights into history, they also raise many questions.
" what is less clear is the development of ethical guidelines with which to conduct subsequent DNA, genetic, radiological, and other medical inquiries into human history. What will the rules be for exhuming bodies to solve vexing pathological puzzles? Are major historical figures entitled to the same privacy rules that private citizens enjoy even after death? Most pragmatically, what is actually gained from such studies? Will they change current thinking about and prevent threatening diseases such as influenza? Will they change the understanding of the past, such as the Jefferson study's powerful elucidation of intimacy during the era of slavery and the Tutankhamun study's window on the conduct of the royal family of Egypt?
"All historians are guilty of enjoying reading the mail and personal materials of others. Yet before disturbing the dead with the penetrating wonders of 21st-century medical science, it is essential to follow the lead of these authors by pondering all the ethical implications of such inquiries to avoid opening a historical Pandora's box."
(JAMA. 2010;303:667-668. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org)
Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.
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