Introduction: postmodern medical ethics?
Paul A. Komesaroff
This is a book about medical ethics, albeit of a somewhat unfamiliar kind. It
does not do what most books about medical ethics try to do: it does not attempt
to identify general principles of good or right conduct as they might apply to
medicine or medical research; it does not present a variety of ethical theories
from among which a choice is to be made and propound one of them as the
preferred option; it does not seek to provide criteria for determining the best
action in a difficult clinical situation or to present arguments that are intended
to resolve a specific ethical dilemma. It is not, in other words, concerned about
"normative ethics"; but neither is it concerned with "metaethics;' with the
structures of ethical propositions and the ways in which they are used in ethical
The issues addressed in this book are both broader and narrower than these.
They include the large-scale structure of the ethical dimension of medicine,
encompassing the ethical presuppositions underlying the practice of healing
and the theory of the body. At the same time, they encompass the reciprocal
interdependence of medicine and the prevailing cultural structures. And they
extend to the impact that medicine has had on the lifeworld-on that intimate
and private realm of experience within which we live and construct realms of
meaning and value.
In their various ways, the essays in this volume explore the conditions of
ethics and the nature of ethical theorizing in relation to medicine. They address
some of the ethical implications of new techniques and scientific insights-and,
indeed, of well-established ones. They explore the medical construction of the
body and its outcomes at the level of values. They thus cover a considerable
variety of questions; they do so, moreover, from a variety of perspectives, with a
variety of methods, and with a variety of conclusions. Accordingly, this work
does not attempt to present a single, comprehensive critique of conventional
medical ethics, much less seek to develop an alternative set of propositions to
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