Life, Death, and Subjectivity: Moral Sources in Bioethics

Life, Death, and Subjectivity: Moral Sources in Bioethics

Life, Death, and Subjectivity: Moral Sources in Bioethics

Life, Death, and Subjectivity: Moral Sources in Bioethics


This book presents an exploration of concepts central to health care practice. In exploring such concepts as Subjectivity, Life, Personhood, and Death in deep philosophical terms, the book aims to draw out the ethical demands that arise when we encounter these phenomena, and also the moral resources of health care workers for meeting those demands.


If man always encounters the good in the specific form of the particular
practical situation in which he finds himself, the task of moral knowledge is
to see in the concrete situation what is asked of it or, to put it another way,
the person acting must see the concrete situation in the light of what is
asked of him in general.

Hans-Georg Gadamer

1. Health Care as a Practice

Health care is a vast and global human practice. Individual doctors and health care workers, hospitals and other clinics, commercial health organizations, governments at national, state and local levels, charitable organizations, international aid agencies, and the World Health Organization, all spend and receive vast sums of money seeking to save the lives and enhance the health status of the people who are their patients or clients or for whom they are otherwise responsible. A large range of professions is involved, including medicine, nursing, psychiatry, dentistry, health administration, physiotherapy, counselling, alternative medical practices, psychotherapy, nutrition science, chiropractic, biological and genetic research, and much more. Further, these professions have subdivisions and specializations. Amongst the medicos, there are specialists, general practitioners, surgeons, and many more. Nurses might specialize in oncology, aged care, midwifery, and community health along with numerous other fields. There are as many forms of alternative health care practice as there are systems of belief in the curative effects of rituals, substances, and therapies. Psychotherapy takes multiple forms and appeals to many traditions and theories, while those therapies that seek to relieve the stresses and injuries of the musculature and physique of the body present consumers of health care in industrial societies with a range of choices unimaginable in previous times.

It might appear at best useless and at worst misleading to lump all of these professions and traditions together under the one term: “health care practice.” I do so to draw attention to the fact that all of these activities, however different many will be from each other, are concerned in one way or another with the health of the patients or clients who ask for the help of the professionals in question. Health, broadly understood, is the primary focus of this practice. Whether it is the bringing into the world of new life, being in attendance at the cessation of life, or engaging in the many activities that cure malady or relieve the suffering arising from ill-health during the course of life, health is the goal shared by the myriad forms of health care activity that I am pointing to. Moreover, I consider that the term “care” applies broadly to that large range of activities. Whether the activity at issue is an allocation on the part of a government of funds to its public hospital system, or a curative procedure administered by a doctor, or the pursuit of a public health promotion policy by nurses and social workers, or attending to a dying patient in a hospice, or any of the vast range of activities falling within the purview of the many professions that pursue health, the common element is a tending to the health-related problem of . . .

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