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Rethinking Bioethics: Questioning Our Answers—and Our Questions

Rethinking Bioethics: Questioning Our Answers—and Our Questions

(p.106) 7 Rethinking Bioethics: Questioning Our Answers—and Our Questions
The Distressed Body
Drew Leder
University of Chicago Press

Using tools from Continental philosophy, this chapter explores how a hermeneutical self-understanding would shift not only clinical practice but the field of bioethics. Bioethicists often seek to resolve a quandary by applying an overarching theory—for example, Kantian “respect for persons”—to the particulars of a case. This chapter suggests something of a reverse approach. Paying careful attention to the interpretations of, and the dilemmas faced by, real-life participants can deepen and change the reading of a case. For example, from the heights of Kantian theory it may seem clear the doctor should “tell the truth” to enhance the patient’s “autonomy.” But what if autonomy (“self-rule”) has already been disrupted by disease and is in dire need of repair? What if medical language and institutions are themselves disempowering? In “telling the truth” medically, the doctor may yet destabilize the patient’s own narrative quest for meaning. A hermeneutical bioethics seeks to disclose such contexts and deepen reflection. The result may not simply be better answers, but some new and better questions for bioethics to explore, including those that challenge prevailing medical institutions and intuitions.

Keywords:   self understanding, hermeneutics, bioethics, autonomy, disease, empowerment, personal narrative, Kantian

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