BackgroundHealthcare is permeated by phenomena of vulnerability and their ethical significance. Nonetheless, application of this concept in healthcare ethics today is largely confined to clinical research. Approaches that further elaborate the concept in order to make it suitable for healthcare as a whole thus deserve renewed attention.MethodsConceptual analysis.ResultsTaking up the task to make the concept of vulnerability suitable for healthcare ethics as a whole involves two challenges. Firstly, starting from the concept as it used in research ethics, a more detailed characterization and systematization of the different realms of human abilities and the various ways in which these realms contain vulnerability is to be established. Secondly, at the same time, the sought-after concept of vulnerability should avoid picturing the relation between healthcare recipient and provider as a relation between a dependent individual in need and another individual capable of providing all the help necessary. An adequate concept of vulnerability should enable one to understand when and in which respects care providers may be vulnerable as well. Philosophical accounts of vulnerability can help to meet both of these challenges.ConclusionsPhilosophical accounts of vulnerability can help to make the concept of vulnerability suitable for healthcare ethics as a whole. They come with a price, though. While the ethical role of vulnerability in medical ethics usually is to signify states of affairs that are to be diminished or overcome, philosophical accounts introduce forms of vulnerability that are regarded as valuable. Further analyzing and systematizing forms and degrees of vulnerability thus comprises the task to distinguish between amounts and types of vulnerability that can count as valuable, and amounts and types of vulnerability that are to be alleviated.
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DOI 10.1186/s13010-019-0075-6
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Principles of Biomedical Ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - Oxford University Press.
Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action.David M. Rasmussen - 1993 - Philosophical Quarterly 43 (173):571.
Why Bioethics Needs a Concept of Vulnerability.Wendy Rogers, Catriona Mackenzie & Susan Dodds - 2012 - International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 5 (2):11-38.

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