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Review: 'Dirty Work' deals critically with medical ethics in surprisingly stark ways

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"Dirty Work" (Little, Brown and Co.), by Gabriel Weston

At the start of Gabriel Weston's "Dirty Work," Nancy Mullion, an obstetrician-gynecologist, has choked during surgery and left her patient in a coma. She now faces four weeks of intense scrutiny from a medical tribunal that will decide whether she should continue to practice medicine.

Interspersed with the tribunal's sessions are Nancy's not-so-pleasant memories of adolescence and education — her sexual abuse by an employee at her aunt's hotel, her punishment for calling out a perverted teacher at boarding school — all stories that are so often untold. These stories reveal the ways in which isolating the professional from the personal can lead to devastating fragmentation of self, reflected in Weston's narrative structure.

"Dirty Work" is a nuanced, intelligent and thoughtful story told from a perspective not often heard from, that of an abortion provider. During her testimony to the tribunal and via her inner thoughts, Nancy offers neither apology nor justification for her work. This is likely to be a difficult book for some, not just because it deals critically with medical ethics in surprisingly stark ways, but because it leaves most of the questions it poses unanswered. Those accustomed to discussing abortion in rigidly manifest black-and-white terms, and particularly those who find comfort within those parameters, will be shaken and provoked by Weston's work.

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