Suffering and the dilemmas of pediatric care: a response to Tyler Tate

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 44 (3):249-258 (2023)
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Abstract

In a recent article, Tyler Tate argues that the suffering of children — especially children with severe cognitive impairments — should be regarded as the antithesis of flourishing, where flourishing is relative to one’s individual characteristics and essentially involves receiving care from others. Although initially persuasive, Tate’s theory is ambiguous in several ways, leading to significant conceptual problems. By identifying flourishing with receiving care, Tate raises questions about the importance of care that he does not address, giving rise to a bootstrapping problem. By making flourishing relative to an individual’s circumstances, Tate is forced to confront questions about exactly how relative it can be, suggesting the possibility that, on his view, to flourish is simply to be however one is. In an attempt to surmount these problems, I offer a revision and restatement of Tate’s view that defines the relationship between individualized flourishing and the more conventional, species-relative concept, and describe more clearly the role that care should play with respect to flourishing — one that is instrumental and not merely constitutive. Even this restated view, however, fails to answer difficult questions about how one should respond to the medical needs of some children, highlighting the fact that a conceptual analysis of suffering may do little, in the end, to untangle ethical dilemmas in the care of severely ill children.

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Brent Kious
University of Utah

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