INTD Narrative Bioethics

Stories are central to our lives in general and to the lives of health care professionals in particular.  Arthur Frank, author of The Wounded Storyteller, claims "stories do not simply describe the self; they are the self's medium of being."  In order to tell a meaningful story we must form it into a narrative.  Conversely, if we are to appreciate all that a story has to teach us, we must pay attention to how it is constructed as a narrative.

In recent years, medical practitioners have turned to the study of narrative as a means of improving patient care.  Although medicine has grown significantly in its ability to diagnose and treat biological disease, medical caregivers often lack the tools necessary to recognize the plights of their patients, to extend empathy toward those who suffer, and to join honestly and courageously with patients in their struggles toward recovery or in facing death.  Proponents of this practice argue that part of the problem lies in the caregiver's failure to respond to his or her patient's story of illness.  Narrative knowledge will, they contend, increase a caregiver's capacity to honor these stories.  The incorporation of narrative competence into the practice of medicine encourages, then, a reexamination of medicine's methodologies and the ethics underwriting the relationship between medical practitioners and patients.  Practitioners trained in narrative become better readers of their patients' stories and histories and, as a result, better caretakers of their beleaguered bodies.

This course offers a narrative approach to issues in bioethics. It focuses on story (case studies, fiction, biographies) as starting points for moral interpretation in bioethics, with special attention to issues in health care. The course will help students recognize and evaluate conflicting perspectives about how ethical dilemmas should be addressed.
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