From the Local to the Global: Bioethics and the Concept of Culture
Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 2005 June; 30(3): 305-320
Cultural models of health, illness, and moral reasoning are receiving increasing attention in bioethics scholarship. Drawing upon research tools from medical and cultural anthropology, numerous researchers explore cultural variations in attitudes toward truth telling, informed consent, pain relief, and planning for end-of-life care. However, culture should not simply be equated with ethnicity. Rather, the concept of culture can serve as an heuristic device at various levels of analysis. In addition to considering how participation in particular ethnic groups and religious traditions can shape moral reasoning, bioethicists need to consider processes of socialization into professional cultures, organizational cultures, national civic culture, and transnational culture. From the local world of the community clinic or oncology unit to the transnational workings of human rights agencies, attentiveness to the concept of culture can illuminate how patients, family members, and health care providers interpret illness, healing, and moral obligations.
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