Sacrifice: An Ethical Dimension of Caring That Makes Suffering Meaningful
Lindstrom, Unni A.
Nursing Ethics 2003 July; 10(4): 414-427
This article is intended to raise the question of whether sacrifice can be regarded as constituting a deep ethical structure in the relationship between patient and carer. The significance of sacrifice in a patient-carer relationship cannot, however, be fully understood from the standpoint of the consistently utilitarian ethic that characterizes today's ethical discourse. Deontological ethics, with its universal principles, also does not provide a suitable point of departure. Ethical recommendations and codices are important and serve as general sources of knowledge when making decisions, but they should be supplemented by an ethic that takes into consideration contextual and situational factors that make every encounter between patient and carer unique. Caring science research literature presents, on the whole, general agreement on the importance of responsibility and devotion with regard to sense of duty, warmth and genuine engagement in caring. That sacrifice may also constitute an important ethical element in the patient- carer relationship is, however, a contradictory and little considered theme. Caring literature that deals with sacrifice/self- sacrifice indicates contradictory import. It is nevertheless interesting to notice that both the negative and the positive aspects bring out importance of the concept for the professional character of caring. The tradition of ideas in medieval Christian mysticism with reference to Levinas' ethic of responsibility offers a deeper perspective in which the meaningfulness of sacrifice in the caring relationship can be sought. The theme of sacrifice is not of interest merely as a carer's ethical outlook, but sacrifice can also be understood as a potential process of transformation health. The instinctive or conscious experience of sacrifice on the part of the individual patient can, on a symbolic level, be regarded as analogous to the cultic or religious sacrifice aiming at atonement. Sacrifice appears to the patient as an act of transformation to achieve atonement and healing. Atonement then implies finding meaningfulness in one's suffering. The concept of sacrifice, understood in a novel way, opens up a deeper dimension in the understanding of suffering and makes caring in 'the patient's world' possible.
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