Implementing an Ethics of the Family

Just as medical care is ethically inadequate when the focus is on the organ to be treated rather than on the person in whom the organ resides, so it is likely to be inadequate when no notice is taken of the families in which patients reside. An ethics that treats people as if they were unconnected and self-centered is not up to the task of promoting either justice or human flourishing. Primary care physicians—not only practitioners of family medicine but also pediatricians and internists—are often adept at seeing beyond the patient to the nest of relationships within which that patient lives. They, like nurses and social workers, although hampered by institutional pressures that push families into the background, tend to be attuned to these relationships even when they cannot give a formal moral account of them. That account has been slow in coming; the values of families remain much more diffuse and implicit than the well-articulated values of medicine. But the relationship between the two systems of care is beginning to receive systematic exploration.

As discussions continue regarding what that relationship should be in the twenty-first century, it may be concluded that taking families seriously requires major institutional changes. Hospitals might need to be restructured so that patients are not so estranged from their families; hospital ethics committees might have to take on a mediator's role for disputes among family members concerning patient care; the moral significance of families might have to be better reflected in case law; the conditions under which care is delivered will certainly have to be more hospitable to an ongoing relationship between patients and those who care for them; there will have to be a greater acknowledgment that families—the original providers of primary care—are as essential a source of healthcare as medicine is. The practical difficulties in implementing an ethics of the family as it relates to healthcare, while daunting, are surely counterbalanced by the importance of the enterprise to the larger task of bioethics: thinking well and carefully about the concrete human realities—our differences, our similarities, our particularities, our intimacies— that have a direct bearing on health, whether within a medical or a familial setting.


SEE ALSO: Abortion; Abuse, Interpersonal; Adoption; Aging and the Aged; Care; Children; Cloning: Reproductive; Confidentiality; Dementia; Environmental Ethics: Ecofeminism; Fertility Control; Future Generations, Reproductive Technologies and Obligations to; Genetic Counseling, Ethical Issues in; Genetic Counseling, Practice of; GriefandBereavement; Infants; Long-Term Care; Maternal-Fetal Relationship; Natural Law; Organ and Tissue Procurement: Ethical and Legal Issues Regarding Living Donors; Population Ethics; Psychiatry, Abuses of; Reproductive Technologies; Sexual Ethics

Anxiety and Depression 101

Anxiety and Depression 101

Everything you ever wanted to know about. We have been discussing depression and anxiety and how different information that is out on the market only seems to target one particular cure for these two common conditions that seem to walk hand in hand.

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