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Medical miracle experience inspires doctor's research on saints

Jackie Duffin’s fascination with saints and medical miracles started back in in the late 1980s, when she was a hematologist hired to do a blind review of bone marrow slides. She was not told who it was for, so she assumed it was part of a lawsuit.

The slides showed a woman with an aggressive form of leukemia, but amazingly the disease went into remission. Dr. Duffin joked with a colleague that it was a miracle. It turns out the Vatican was thinking the same thing.

Jackie Duffin is one of three Queen's professors taking part in this Saturday's Royal Society of Canada public lecture.

Although she took chemotherapy, the patient attributed her recovery to the intercession of Marguerite d'Youville, who had lived in Montreal in the 18th century. Dr. Duffin’s review was part of a rigorous process the church conducts every time a person is considered for sainthood. On the basis of this miracle, in December of 1990, d’Youville became the first Canadian-born saint.

“The whole experience caused me to wonder about all the other miracles and the canonization process,” says Dr. Duffin, who went on to study 1,400 miracles in a 400–year period for her book Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints and Healing in the Modern World.

Her fascination with sainthood and miracles will be the topic of her Royal Society of Canada public talk held at Queen’s University on Saturday, April 13 in the University Club, 168 Stuart Street. The lectures start at 10 am with the final talk scheduled for 3 pm. Dr. Duffin speaks at 2 pm.

Two other Queen’s professors are taking part in the lecture. Ram Murty (Mathematics) will talk about how math is intertwined with technology and important in everyday life for things such as Google searches, mobile phones or GPS units.

“Math dramatically impacts our lives yet many people don’t even realize it,” says Dr. Murty.

Christine Overall (Philosophy) will explore new ideas about the moral status of the fetus and the definition of abortion. She will consider philosophical questions such as whether fetuses that are unwanted after abortion should be saved if ectogenesis (machine-based gestation outside the human body) were to be developed, and women’s rights with respect to the outcome of abortion.

The Royal Society talk is free and open to the public.