Personal Reflections on Waking up Blind

I have moved an updated version of my essay to the website. I invite you to visit me there.

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About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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21 Responses to Personal Reflections on Waking up Blind

  1. Harold Jackson says:

    Ron — Great story. Too bad that it is true. Dr Gammon paid a high price for his integrity but, I’m sure, he felt that there was no alternative. My hope is that more people will read of things like this and choose the road of Dr Gammon. My fear is that our health care system will only continue to breed Dr Cavanaughs. By the way, did Dr Cavanugh receive the award?

  2. Gina Pyke says:

    I teach in the clinical psych program at Emory and am also a faculty member of Emory’s newly enlarged interdisciplinary Center for Ethics. Your narrative has been circulated to those faculty, some of whom have never heard the story, and they find it very powerful. I hope you’ll be hearing directly from some of them. You may be interested to know that the Cavanaugh case has been taught every year in the Medical Ethics course for 3rd year med students by one of the Center’s med school faculty members. So there’s some constructive institutional memory at work. Thank you for this.

  3. Ron Boothe says:

    I would like to acknowledge and thank the dozens of individuals who have sent personal comments to my email account about this essay. It has been gratifying to hear from so many friends and former colleagues who have expressed empathy for Drs. Gammon and Campbell in terms of what happened to them. Many of the comments I received expressed a combination of shock over what happened and the fact that it was able to be covered up for a quarter century, and dismay over what this episode teaches us about the ethical values that were promoted by Emory University during this long, sorry period. But I have also received many replies that give reason for hope, including the reply posted here by Dr. Gina Pyke from Emory. Perhaps redemption is possible through remembrance, and perhaps now that the facts have been made public for the first time, Emory University will do the right thing. I am hopeful that the Emory Center for Ethics will work to remedy the lack of acknowledgment of the sacrifices Drs. David Campbell and Allen Gammon made to try to protect the well-being of their patients and the integrity of Emory University.

    With regard to the specific question asked by my good friend Harold Jackson, I suggest a visit to Dwight Cavanagh’s personal website where he lists his Distinguished Academic Honors. [NOTE added: In my original posting I had included a link to Cavanagh’s website. I decided to remove that link because I do not want my posting here to be viewed as being vindictive. That is not my intention. I intend my posting to be 1) a tribute to the courage of Dr. Gammon and Dr. Campbell, and 2) a prod to my former colleagues at Emory to set about remedying the harm done to these individuals (and others) by Emory University. It is not too late, but alas, I have not, to date, heard from anyone at the Emory Center for Ethics about plans to to try to remedy the situation. David Campbell still has an official letter of reprimand from Emory University, and Allen Gammon still goes to bed every night dealing with the fact that his children and grandchildren know he was once fired from Emory University. Please, can’t Emory University put a stop, once and for all, to this madness, by at least acknowledging publicly what happened and perhaps even offering a public apology?, Ron Boothe, March 2, 2010]

  4. Well said. Please forward my best to JAG!!!


  5. Ron Boothe says:

    Any hopes I might have had that the Emory Center for Ethics of Emory University might make a positive contribution to remedying some of the injustices that were done in the past to Dr. Campbell, Dr. Gammon, and others were dashed by an email I received from:

    Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D.
    Director, Center for Ethics
    Emory University
    1531 Dickey Drive
    Atlanta, GA 30322

    After chiding me for bringing the existence of this blogsite posting to his attention (apparently he thinks that by blaming the messenger, he is off the hook as far as having any responsibility to respond to the ethical issues inherent in the message), he then informs me that:

    “The fact that one of my faculty members was one of the most responsive people to your article does not confer on the Center an obligation to collaborate with you about the case.”

    Paul Wolpe’s assertion is no doubt technically correct. However, I must confess that my own reaction to Wolpe is somewhat similar to that of the fictional character Laura in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Blind Assassin (2000). In the novel, Laura’s father had pushed to have a memorial erected on the town square. On the day the memorial was unveiled, “…even the Catholic priest was allowed to say a piece. [Laura’s] father pushed for this, on the grounds that a dead Catholic soldier was just as dead as a dead Protestant one. [Another fictional character in the novel] said that was one way of looking at it. ‘What is the other way?’ said Laura.”

  6. byard edwards says:

    And do you think Nietzsche’s Übermensch does not thrive today in this environment?

  7. Robert L says:

    Emory plans world-class ethics center

    Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Urvaksh Karkaria Staff Writer Monday, August 23, 2010

    The Emory Center for Ethics plans to raise up to $20 million to transform the two-decade-old institute into a global think tank on ethical issues.

    The proposed expansion, in scope and square feet, has the potential to draw new business and ideas to the region, its supporters say.

    “Atlanta is an international business center,” Paul Wolpe, the center’s director said. “It needs a world-class ethics presence.”

    Atlanta is ideally suited to host a global ethics center because it has the transportation infrastructure to convene experts from around the world, said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress.

    Being a global business hub and having a cluster of universities and research centers, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, makes Atlanta a natural congregating point for business and biomedical ethicists.

    Emory’s ethics center serves as an economic development tool, Robinson said, helping expose the city to visiting corporate leaders, who might later expand or relocate to the area.

    Emory’s Center for Ethics aims to be not just a place of academic scholarship, but a resource for the community — business, nonprofits and government, said R. Anthony Joseph, president of Atlanta-based Concessions International LLC.

    The center plays an indirect economic development role, enhancing the city’s reputation as a global center of culture and thought, Joseph said.

    “The success story of Atlanta has not just been one of business and the Olympics,” he said. “It’s also been of a progressive city.”

    Focus areas

    Ethics isn’t just about judgments of right and wrong, but about understanding human behavior in relation to values, Wolpe said.

    “Every decision that you make in your life is based on some … ethical assumption,” he said. “Ethics is exploring, understanding and questioning our own deepest values, in order to make decisions.”

    The center “announces the intent of this region to insist that ethical behavior is at the center of how we live, including how we do business,” Emory University President James Wagner said.

    The importance of having an ethics program as an educational institution seems more evident today than ever before, he noted.

    “It does appear over the last decade or so, that we’ve suffered the consequences of people who have not had a well-developed facility with the practice of ethics,” said Wagner, who was appointed vice chairman of President Barack Obama’s Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues last November.

    Emory’s ethics center facilitates conversation, is a place for mediation, and trains workers in problem-solving around ethical issues.

    In addition to studying ethical dilemmas, the Emory ethics center hosts public programs, and partners and consults with private and public community organizations.

    Wolpe, who was hired two years ago from the University of Pennsylvania, wants the center to focus on ethical issues that affect businesses, the environment, public health and social welfare.

    “Those are the areas, right now, where we’ve got the greatest expertise, having to do with who our existing faculty are,” Wolpe said.

    The potential investment, he said, “would allow for a much richer program in more areas of ethics.”

    An expert on bioethics, Wolpe said the life sciences arena is rife with ethical controversy as technology and medicine has enabled man to replicate nature, and in some cases speed up evolution.

    “We are able to manipulate human, animal and plant life in ways that are creating novel organisms,” Wolpe said. “The decision on how to apply our biotechnological powers is a profoundly important ethical conversation to have.”

    Bulking up

    About $10 million of the planned raise would be used to relocate, and nearly double, the center’s physical footprint at Emory.

    Wolpe also wants to beef up the number of researchers, visiting scholars and administrative staff.

    “We want to create endowed chairs — full-time scholars — in business, environmental and public health ethics,” Wolpe said.

    Raising the $20 million, amidst a sputtering economy that has drained individual investment portfolios and foundation coffers, won’t be easy.

    The biggest challenge, he said, is in educating would-be donors on the need to have a robust ethics center in the city.

    “People need to understand what an ethics center does,” Wolpe said. “It isn’t natural or intuitive to most people, exactly what we do.”

    Reach Karkaria at

  8. Ron Boothe says:

    When all the work is done, the lie shall rot;
    The truth is great, and shall prevail,
    When none cares whether it prevail or not.

    Coventry Patmore as quoted in The Anthologist

  9. Sandy May says:

    I read the book ‘Waking Up Blind’ and by googling found this blog. Ron’s comments really illuminates the context of the whole affair and add a lot to Dr Harbin’s account. It is horrifying to read about Cavanagh’s ethics and in a way even worse to realize the so called Ethics Committee didn’t care at all. Drs Campbell and Gammon are true American heroes – but the good guys often get little reward. This should be scripted for a movie, it is an incredible story!

  10. Nicholas Bujak MD says:

    Touching article. I had tears in my eyes. I feel in my medical training I have seen and experienced similar occurrences of medical misconduct. Probably not at the level and extent that this book illustrates bur nevertheless patients were hurt, cover ups occured, individuals became scapegoats while other got away ruled and governed via intimidation. Some of the most dishonest people I have met in my life are doctors. I am sorry to say that because I am a physician. I would like to think I have been unlucky or my opinion is a result of a selection bias but really deep down inside I think physicians are no more moral than you’re average human being.

  11. Pingback: 2010 in review « Tacoma Retired Men's Bookclub

  12. Charlie Schooler says:

    If I had to name my best friend ever, it would be Allen Gammon. Best friends in high school together, college roommates thru our undergraduate days, and best man at my wedding (twice), we were about as close as two friends can be. In the aftermath of his firing from Emory, Allen provided only the sketchiest of details, and has been reluctant to discuss the subject for the past 25 years.

    Earlier this week Allen and his wife Annie were in San Diego for a medical conference, and we took the opportunity to get together over lunch. Prior to his dashing out the door, he gave me a copy of Waking Up Blind, with the inscription “To fill in those gaps – before we forget them all.”

    I am simply delighted that this story has finally been told, gratifed by the support shown on this blog, and hopeful that more MD’s will learn from the mistakes made at Emory.

    Kudos to Dr. Tom Harbin for writing a story that is long overdue, and to Dr. Ronald Boothe for a superb summary, augmented by touching personal reflections that will hopefully be included in the next edition.

    A special thanks to Allen Gammon for finally filling in those gaps.

    And raspberries to Paul Wolpe, whose comments are more reflective of Dwight Kavanaugh than of any ethics expert.

  13. Mike Robinson says:

    Charlie: Not knowing the book you mention, I can’t help thinking of a different one that seems very relevant. JOSE SARAMAGO won the Nobel Prize for BLINDNESS a few years ago. Perhaps you all discussed that alraady. But an equally compelling pair of stories could amuse you.

    One is the famous HG Wells piece, IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND.
    Another is THE BOUND MAN, by Ilse Aichinger. (it involves a man literally bound by ropes from head to toe.)

  14. Ron Boothe says:

    A one hour panel discussion of Waking Up Blind will take place at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, October 13-16, 2011 at the Hyatt Minneapolis in Minneapolis, MN.

  15. JOHN BALDINGER says:

    I never knew the details of the Cavanaugh situation and have re-educated myself over the past 4 hrs.. I will read the book shortly. I am a 1976 Emory college grad and a very busy practicing ophthalmologist in the Washington DC area. I find it unbelievable that Emory has NOT wanted to publicly exhonerate Dr Campbell and Gammon, for their courage in telling the truth. Shame on them!!!! It is not too late!!! JOHN C BALDINGER MD

  16. Suzy says:

    Four months ago, I met with Dr. Campbell in New Hampshire to discuss having an iridotomy. I didn’t know his background other than his being highly regarded by the eye care center I use. He immediately impressed me as being a compassionate person of great personal integrity. This was confirmed again when I went in for the procedure and later on for the followup.

    Today, I was telling my GP about the procedure, and he told me he is personal friends with Dr. Campbell. He also told me about what Drs. Campbell and Gammon had gone through at Emory and recommended I read “Waking Up Blind.” So, I ordered the book then Googled to learn more. It was heartbreaking to read this account of what these two doctors endured, and it’s no understatement to refer to them both as heroes. Having met Dr. Campbell, I am astounded that he remains such a warm and open person. As sort of a funny aside and before learning about his history, I was thinking to myself that he would be the ideal person to teach an ethics course!

    I’m glad that Harbin wrote a book on this ordeal, which I look forward to reading, and that Ronald Boothe wrote this review. We don’t meet many heroes in real life, so I feel very lucky to have met one and to know they still exist.

  17. Disappointed EU Alumnus says:

    I wonder if Dr. Hatcher’s book mentions this episode. I’m guessing not. Thank you for writing this, it’s still getting new readers.

    “Emory celebrates 50th service anniversary of Charles Hatcher” — July 17, 2012

    “…Despite officially “retiring” in 1996, Hatcher maintains an office on campus and continues to bring his leadership and skill to the service of Emory every week”

    Best wishes from a (non-medical) Emory alum who should have heard about this at the time, but didn’t. Surprise.

  18. Stacy Clark says:

    I am a patient of Dr. Gammon. He’s just become my new hero. Stacy Clark, Manteca, CA

  19. Brent Swenson says:

    Ron – I came across your post by the merest coincidence. While I knew of the travesty that occurred with Allen and David, and the cover-up, I was not aware of the details. They are entirely consistent with the Emory University that I knew. The culture had not changed noticeably when I was invited to leave and I would be enormously surprised if it were different today. Allen and David were uniquely courageous and could easily have served their own interests by simply doing nothing but they did not. As Edmund Burke noted: “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Allen Gammon and David Campbell are indeed good men.

  20. Adalyn Watts says:

    Fortunately for me, I married and left the ophthalmology department at Emory right before these things happened. Before I left, Dr. Wilson said to me that he intended to get out and go down to Crawford Long. “Dwight is doing too many surgeries. He is lining people up outside his doors, and something bad is going to happen.” Later, I got a call in Chattanooga asking what it would take to get me to come back to the department from Cavanaugh’s secretary, but told her there was no way I could. Drs. Wilson and Campbell and others always got photographs; Dr. Cavanaugh, not so much. But, what happened was a tragedy for everyone involved and even for us on the sidelines.

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