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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Toward a Social Bioethics Through Interpretivism: A Framework for Healthcare Ethics.

Dougherty, R., & Fins, J. (2023).
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 1-11.


Recent global events demonstrate that analytical frameworks to aid professionals in healthcare ethics must consider the pervasive role of social structures in the emergence of bioethical issues. To address this, the authors propose a new sociologically informed approach to healthcare ethics that they term “social bioethics.” Their approach is animated by the interpretive social sciences to highlight how social structures operate vis-à-vis the everyday practices and moral reasoning of individuals, a phenomenon known as social discourse. As an exemplar, the authors use social bioethics to reframe common ethical issues in psychiatric services and discuss potential implications. Lastly, the authors discuss how social bioethics illuminates the ways healthcare ethics consultants in both policy and clinical decision-making participate in and shape broader social, political, and economic systems, which then cyclically informs the design and delivery of healthcare.

My summary: 

The authors argue that traditional bioethical frameworks, which focus on individual rights and responsibilities, are not sufficient to address the complex ethical issues that arise in healthcare. They argue that social bioethics can help us to better understand how social structures, such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, shape the experiences of patients and healthcare providers, and how these experiences can influence ethical decision-making.

The authors use the example of psychiatric services to illustrate how social bioethics can be used to reframe common ethical issues. They argue that the way we think about mental illness is shaped by social and cultural factors, such as our understanding of what it means to be "normal" and "healthy." These factors can influence how we diagnose, treat, and care for people with mental illness.

The authors also argue that social bioethics can help us to understand the role of healthcare ethics consultants in shaping broader social, political, and economic systems. They argue that these consultants participate in a process of "social discourse," in which they help to define the terms of the debate about ethical issues in healthcare. This discourse can then have a cyclical effect on the design and delivery of healthcare.

Here are some of the key concepts of social bioethics:
  • Social structures: The systems of power and inequality that shape our society.
  • Social discourse: The process of communication and negotiation through which we define and understand social issues.
  • Healthcare ethics consultants: Professionals who help to resolve ethical dilemmas in healthcare.
  • Social justice: The fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.