Aroop Mangalik

Cancer and Culture: Facing a Fate We Fear

Dr. Aroop Mangalik, M.D.
June 5, 2016 

Cancer is a terrifying and tremendously complicated disease.  In America we fear it and fight it.  The nation declares “war” on cancer; individuals wage “heroic battles” against its ravages; politicians promise to find a “cure.” Death itself is an enemy to be defeated. But other cultures do not respond this way. In India, for example, death is viewed as a natural part of the cycle of life.  Cancer is one of many paths to “the road all runners come.” Dr. Mangalik’s lecture will compare the impact of these two cultures on cancer treatment and research — Indian family-centeredness versus American individualism, faith in fate versus faith in science and, in particular, the role of the physician and scientist as hero.

A practicing oncologist, Dr. Mangalik believes, the “age of breakthroughs” in cancer treatment is over. Future progress will be incremental, at the margins, with better therapies rather than sweeping cures. In these circumstances can we find a “new” approach to this disease? Should we urge people with advanced cancers to accept “heroic” treatments that extend life by only weeks or months, or should we look to India and other ancient cultures that stress comfort care and spiritual support that can bring meaningful closure at life’s end? Dr. Mangalik believes that we ought not sacrifice healing to the phantom hope for a cure.

Dr. Aroop Mangalik is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Mangalik was an oncologist at UNM Health Sciences Center for 30 years, until his retirement in 2013. He has had an interest in medical ethics for many years and is a former chair of the Biomedical Ethics Committee at UNM. His efforts have been directed towards policies and procedures that would lead to a comfortable death for patients suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

Supported by New Mexico Humanities Council, Sandia National Labs, Haverland Carter Lifestyle Group and the Albuquerque Journal