The Lost Voice: How Libertarianism and Consumerism Obliterate the Need for a Relational Ethics in the National Health Care Service
ter Meulen, Ruud H.J.
Christian Bioethics 2008 April; 14(1): 78-94
This article analyzes the contribution Christian ethics might be able to make to the ethical debate on policy and caregiving in health and social care in the United Kingdom. The article deals particularly with the concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity which are essential in Christian social ethics and health care ethics, and which may be relevant for the ethical debate on health and social caregiving in the United Kingdom. An important argument in the article is that utilitarian and market-driven policies in the National Health Service (NHS) and the social care system have marginalized the position of the elderly and have seriously impoverished the quality of care for the elderly. The neglect of the elderly and other vulnerable groups is also the result of widespread consumerist attitudes among patients and of libertarian models of noninterference which are affirmed by a public ethos of self-sufficiency and counter-dependency. Those who need care dare not make their need known to others and ask for help, while simultaneously those who could help are so intimidated by the public affirmation of privacy and negative rights that they do not dare to offer help except if this is explicitly demanded. This distant and standoffish attitude is in an important way responsible for the fact that the voice of those in need is altogether lost to the public forum. Christian ethics puts much emphasis on responsibility and solidarity with the needy other but is not able to have much impact on the delivery of care in a secularized society and health care system like the NHS. Nonetheless, Christianity still has a powerful and respected voice, by speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, such as the elderly and the handicapped. Christians can find allies in the ethics of care a