Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 217–229 | Cite as

The healing relationship: Edmund Pellegrino’s philosophy of the physician–patient encounter

  • S. Kay ToombsEmail author


In this paper I briefly summarize Pellegrino’s phenomenological analysis of the ethics of the physician–patient relationship. In delineating the essential elements of the healing relationship (the fact of illness, the profession of healing, and the act of medicine), Pellegrino demonstrates the necessity for health care professionals to understand the patient’s lived experience of illness. In considering the phenomenon of illness, I identify certain essential characteristics of illness-as-lived that provide a basis for developing a rigorous understanding of the patient’s experience. I note recent developments in the systematic delivery of health care that make it difficult for health care professionals to realize Pellegrino’s ethical model of the role of healer. Such developments limit both the physician’s freedom to act on behalf of the patient without the constraint of third parties and the physician’s freedom to act in light of his or her own ethical or religious convictions. Given these difficulties, I note MacIntyre’s call for the development of moral communities, as an alternative to the prevailing culture, and share a first-hand example illustrating how intentional Christian community provides an alternative nurturing context that permits the full development of the healing relationship.


Edmund Pellegrino Physician–patient relationship Illness-as-lived Healing Community 



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Baylor UniversityWacoUSA

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