Social context and historical emergence: The underlying dimension of medical ethics

I argue that work in medical ethics which attempts to humanize medicine without examining hidden assumptions (about medicine's ontology, explanations, goals, relationships) has the dehumanizing effect of legitimating practices which treat persons as abstractions. After illustrating the need to reexamine the field of medical ethics and the doctor-patient relationship in particular, I use Foucault's work to provide a social, historical framework for discussion. This background begins to demonstrate that doctor-patient relationships cannot be made satisfactory by new hospital policies or interpersonal skills, but have deep-rooted problems due to medicine's place in social history. Real progress requires social or structural change.
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