To what extent can a set of stories be “representative,” particularly when gathered through open invitation and personal contacts? This question arose as we worked with our symposium editor, Elisa Gordon, in collecting this issue’s stories on living organ donation. It arose in part because we received more stories and offers of stories than we could publish in print or online. (This issue includes six narratives that are published online only at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/narrative_inquiry_in_bioethics/)
In brief, we think our collections of stories can represent—albeit imperfectly—a broad range of experiences, but not the frequency of experiences. In figure 1 below, the horizontal line at the base of the frequency curve indicates a range of heights; the vertical line represents the frequency of the height in the US population. Together, the two data points yield a bell curve; the range alone is represented as a continuum along the baseline.
Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics has several reasons why it must be content representing a continuum of experiences without attempting to reflect frequencies in its collection of stories. First, it cannot represent frequencies with any reliability because our stories are not randomly selected from any population. Second, from a reader’s perspective, it would be significantly less interesting to encounter many similar stories than to learn about the broad range of human experiences on a given topic. Third, experiences that are relatively rare may still be important. Individuals with these experiences may be those whose voice is frequently lost as policies and practices are developed, and their stories may lead us to deeper understanding of issues that can arise.
Our narrative symposium on living organ donation has done a nice job of representing a wide variety of experiences. As Elisa Gordon notes, the collection of stories represent the experiences of liver and kidney donors; donors whose organ was successfully and unsuccessfully transplanted into a recipient; related and unrelated donors; and donors who had overwhelmingly positive experiences, mixed experiences, and negative experiences. In these stories we read about a wide variety of motives for donation and concerns with the donation experience. We hope that the collection of personal narratives and commentaries by Drs. Dianne LaPointe Rudow and Paul Root Wolpe will lead to a better understanding of the current living donation process as well as improvements in that process for future donors.
In this issue we are also pleased to publish our first contribution to our Narrative Education Reports section. Lori Roscoe describes a series of narrative writing workshops for physicians who care for dying patients. She explores the ways that reflective writing can be used to assist physicians in processing their experiences with dying patients and their families.
Finally, C. Cory Smith has contributed an article based on her grounded theory study of 36 fourth-year medical students who completed a rural immersion rotation in the Mississippi Delta. This study is highly valuable insofar as it suggests that suitable rotation experiences may motivate graduating medical students to practice medicine in rural, [End Page v] underserved areas that frequently lack adequate access to medical care.
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The Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics Forum and Newsletter
The Foundation for Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics has established a Forum to supplement material in the journal. The Forum provides a space for multiple purposes:
• Sharing our calls for stories, which are the backbone of the journal
• Discussing particularly intriguing stories and articles
• Publishing stories that do not fit in a narrative symposium, but merit sharing
• Publishing reflections on narrative methodology, symposium topics, and other miscellanea that may be of interest to our readers
The Forum is published at www.narrativebioethics.com.
The Foundation has also started an electronic newsletter, which will share news about the journal, current calls for stories, and our most recent table of contents. Please sign up to receive the newsletter at www.narrativebioethics.com.
We wish to thank the BF Charitable Foundation and Mid-America Transplant (MTS) Services for educational gifts that will help support volume 2 of Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics. Both non-profit corporations respect the journal’s need for editorial freedom and neither has previewed any content of any issues of the journal. [End Page vi]