Dr. Norman Bethune was convinced that recovery from illness should not be related to social class. This led him to identify as a communist. His political convictions motivated him to join the fight against fascism in Spain during the country’s civil war in the 1930s. There he organized a mobile blood transfusion service – one of the first of its kind. Bethune later travelled to China where he served as a surgeon for Chinese communists fighting against the Japanese. He risked his health working in conflict zones. While performing a surgery he contracted blood poisoning and died.
Dr. Lucille Teasdale Corti believed that people should have access to medical care regardless of their circumstances. She was one of Canada’s first female surgeons. In the early 1960s, Teasdale Corti went to Lacor, Uganda to work in a small clinic. There she faced the challenge of treating hundreds of patients a day. Difficulties mounted during the decades of civil conflict that wracked Uganda beginning in the 1970s. Armed factions targeted the hospital, stealing drugs and kidnapping medical staff. Teasdale Corti later contracted HIV while performing surgery. Yet, she continued working for ten years before succumbing to the virus in 1996.
For Dr. Samantha Nutt, the wellbeing of women and children caught up in war is of paramount concern. Since 1995, Nutt has worked in conflict zones around the world, primarily overseeing long-term programming geared towards the empowerment of women and children to build a peaceful future. This work puts her own safety at risk. She has been physically threatened and caught in gun fights between warring militias. Armed conflict has claimed the lives of friends and colleagues. Nutt’s experiences of war, and its effects on children in particular, motivated her to found War Child in 1999.
Canadian Doctors in the Field is featured in the Level 2 — What Are Human Rights? gallery from September 2, 2017 to August 1, 2018. Visit the Museum to see the full exhibition.