Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 245–252

Humane healthcare as a theme for social ethics

  • Martien Pijnenburg


The concept of ‘humane healthcare’ cannot and may not be limited to a personal virtue. For elucidating its meaning and making it functional as a critical ethical criterion for healthcare as a social institution, it is necessary to reflect on the social, cultural, and historical conditions in which modern healthcare finds its offspring and its further development. Doing this is the object and aim of social ethics. Social ethics in itself covers a broad area of different approaches. A main division can be made between a liberal and a communitarian approach. This article focuses on the latter and concentrates on one of its representatives, Charles Taylor. The paper starts with two clarifying paragraphs: one about the terms humane and human, a second about the scope of social ethics. Next, because the term humane presupposes a certain view of man, attention will be paid to the lack of consensus in this respect within modernity, using some reflections of Taylor. In his view, resigning in this lack is a threat for one of the main motives behind modernity: the pursuit of a good and meaningful life. In the following section Taylor's analysis is applied to contemporary healthcare, by means of two examples. At the end the question is raised how to promote humane healthcare? In a short and conclusive sketch, three suggestions are offered for further research: scrutiny of goals and meanings within healthcare and culture, the broadening of the concept of autonomy and the upholding of human dignity as an intrinsic and imperative value.

communitarianism humane healthcare meaningful life modernity pluralism social ethics Taylor 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martien Pijnenburg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of MedicineUniversity Medical Centre NijmegenNetherlands

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