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Deepak Chopra, M.D., on Shamanism in American Medicine

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In this film outtake, the alternative medicine “guru” Deepak Chopra, M.D. (b.1947), describes his introduction to American medicine in 1970, during his first night as an intern at a New Jersey hospital. Chopra had worked as a doctor in India before immigrating to the United States, which faced a doctor shortage during the Vietnam War.

Chopra did not know the technical jargon used by American hospitals to addressed death, such as “expiration” and “pronounce dead,” and confusion arose when a patient died and Chopra and the nurses did not understand each other’s terminology.

When he was asked to “pronounce” a person dead, Chopra thought, “In America your soul is not allowed to leave your body until a medical deity — otherwise known as M.D. — says ‘I release you.’ They’re like shamans. They wear white coats, stethoscopes, pronounce Latin mantras instead of aborigine mantras. Dance around cat scanners instead of fires. There’s no difference from thousands of years ago.”

American Masters: The Boomer List, premiering nationwide Tuesday, September 23, 9-10:30 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), tells the story of this influential generation through the lives of 19 iconic boomers—one born each year of the baby boom.


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