Bioethics and the Humanities: Attitudes and Perceptions



(Biomedical Law and Ethics Library) Robin Downie, Jane Macnaughton - Bioethics and the Humanities_ Attitudes and Perceptions-Routledge-Cavendish (2007)


 It is fascinating to watch the coming of age of an area of academic study. The history of the arts and humanities movement as it affects health care and health- care ethics is a good example of such a development. The process usually begins in a small way, for example, with a seminar or a series of lectures, and then a group of enthusiasts meet nationally or internationally, a journal appears and books are written defining the boundaries of the subject and its content.


Both the authors of this book were in at the beginning of the arts and humanities in health and medicine movement and the book itself is a mature reflection on the process and the current state of play in relation to ethical issues in health care. If the regulation of practice is the central concern of medical ethics (or bioethics) this book greatly enlarges that concern. At its heart is the suggestion that ‘the arts and humanities can perform both a critical and a supplementary function in the ethical education of at least some health professionals’. Philosophy sharpens critical perceptions and literature and other arts supplement by maturing attitudes.


In this way the arts and humanities are relevant to making difficult judgments and to developing a broader perspective on human illness and suffering than can be offered by ethical regulation. The authors are not suggesting that every medical or nursing student can benefit from the study of the arts and humanities, nor that such courses be essential parts of the curriculum. Others of course have argued differently.
This book contends that logic and moral philosophy provide ways of thinking, arguing and justifying decision making, and that the loss of these subjects is to be regretted. At present, however, it would be almost impossible to add such subjects as compulsory components in an already overburdened curriculum. But it is an interesting thought. A study of the arts and humanities enables us to see clinical issues in different ways, illuminating familiar problems and giving them new meaning.


The arts can also arm health professionals and others working in community contexts with creative ways of thinking about and delivering public health messages. For health- care professionals such insights can provide the impetus for fresh thinking but can also give support and comfort to those in the front line of health care.

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