Looking Through a Lens
How Doctors Influence Society
By Shavantay Minnis
During the Cold War, doctors in Latin America often falsified death certificates and cooperated with dictatorships to torture prisoners, according to Eyal Weinberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters.
Healthcare played a large role in Latin America’s political struggles during the Cold War, said Weinberg, adding that this is also the basis of his research. “I’m interested in how medicine, health and ethics were influenced by politics and military regimes across the region.”
Specifically, his research analyzes the history of the Brazilian medical sector during the country’s military dictatorship and subsequent efforts to hold doctors accountable for violating medical ethics under state-sponsored repression.
“Towards the end of military rule, doctors who experienced the reign of repression won elections to major medical boards in Brazil,” Weinberg said. “Once they take over, they launch a substantial reform of medical ethics in the country.”
The ethical reform in the medical community played a significant role in Brazil’s transition to democracy, Weinberg added. The reform created ethics that helped regain the trust of society, he said.
Weinberg’s interest in medical ethics and politics in Brazil began before he became an undergraduate student. Originally from Israel, he took a backpacking trip through South America. In Brazil, Weinberg fell in love with the culture, the music and the language, which motivated him to learn about Brazilian history, he said.
In doing so, he discovered various historians who wrote about political violence, dictatorship and struggles against military regimes, sparking his passion for history and Latin America.
Following that curiosity, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Tel Aviv University in Israel, then traveled to the United States to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees in history from the University of Texas at Austin. Later, Weinberg was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
He joined FAU in 2020 as an assistant professor, teaching courses on the histories of Latin America, often focused on health and violence, or specifically devoted to the history of Brazil.
Weinberg recently talked about his research and future goals:
Q. Tell us more about your research focus?
A. My research projects look at the histories of medicine, health, political violence, and human rights. I particularly focus on the years 1960 to 1980, exploring what happens when healthcare engages in politics, specifically under regimes of exception
I follow the history of the Brazilian medical community during period like the Cold War. I trace some doctors who became supporters of dictatorship; they falsified death certificates and cooperated with torture of prisoners. Other doctors I look at opposed the regime; they joined opposition groups and supported protests and campaigns for re-democratization.
I later trace doctors in the struggle to demand accountability for those who violated the code of medical ethics and were complicit in torture or abuse in the name of national security.
Q. What are your greatest goals and ambitions you set for research?
A. I am interested in the relationship between politics, health and human rights. My aim is to try and explicate when and how medical ethics are breached in the name of national security. Conversely, when and how do medical professionals revise their practices to promote democracy? Why does healthcare often become a contested field?
Currently I am working on my book project, which is based on my dissertation. Titled “Tending to the Body Politic: Doctors, Military Repression and Transitional Justice in Brazil,” the project explores the contested realms of professional medicine, bioethics and political repression in military and post-authoritarian Brazil.
Q. What has your experience been like with FAU and how does it shape your research?
A. Concluding my first year I can say I have been very fortunate to work at FAU and experience South Florida. The Brazilian community here is significant. Interacting and sharing ideas with local Brazilian-Americans and Brazilian expats help to gain new perspectives on my research, which wouldn’t be possible elsewhere in the U.S.
Moreover, teaching and learning from FAU’s students — many of whom have family and cultural ties to Latin America and the Caribbean — has been a truly rewarding experience, enhancing both my pedagogy and my research. It’s been a real pleasure to think about the complex histories of the region together with them.
Q. What are some major milestones throughout your career?
A. I remember vividly a few important experiences during my dissertation research period in Brazil where I gained access to never-before-seen records about doctors investigated for their complicity in state-sponsored repression. These have been extremely significant to my research and book in preparation. My postdoctoral year at the University of Texas at Austin was essential to my intellectual and professional development. And most importantly, I consider joining to FAU a central milestone in my career. I look forward to continue this long road in this wonderful institution.
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