Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Caring Well: Religion, Narrative, and Health Care Ethics

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Caring Well: Religion, Narrative, and Health Care Ethics

Article excerpt

Caring Well: Religion, Narrative, and Health Care Ethics. Edited by David H. Smith. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000. 276 pp. $29.95 (paper).

The authors in this edited volume are trying to reintroduce the language, the concepts, and, perhaps primarily, the experience of religion and faith back into health care ethics. They argue that one way-perhaps the best way, in their view-to do this is by developing an approach to health care ethics that takes account of the actual narratives or stories of the professionals working in health care. The book is divided into four parts. Part 1, "Ways of Listening," considers the promises and perils of narrative approaches to ethics in general. Part 2, "The Practices of Caregiving," focuses on a number of poignant issues having to do with sick and dying children. It also includes reflections on how Jewish physicians are or are not influenced by their faith. Part 3, "Coincidence/Conflict Between Commitments," deals with some controversial issues surrounding transplantation. It includes an interesting chapter on the increasingly conflicted roles that chaplains play in transplantation decisions. Part 4 considers "Adults at the End of Life."

This book is not the only voice calling for the use of narrative as a source for ethical reflection, but it may be among the best in current religious health care ethics literature. For all their care, however, at least one of this book's core assumptions may warrant further examination. Why is narrative the best place-or, at least, one of the best places-to reintroduce religion or faithbased concerns to bioethics? Yes, narrative is less abstract than principles, but abstraction can be a matter of degree. For every narrative is itself abstracted from experience, and all stories are "crafted" or shaped to include some things and to exclude others. David Smith's introduction, "The Importance of Listening," suggests that something is lost if principles or abstractions are used to summarize or replace actual narratives, and this is undoubtedly true. …

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