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The Anticipatory Corpse

Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying

Jeffrey P. Bishop

Publication Year: 2011

In this original and compelling book, Jeffrey P. Bishop, a philosopher, ethicist, and physician, argues that something has gone sadly amiss in the care of the dying by contemporary medicine and in our social and political views of death, as shaped by our scientific successes and ongoing debates about euthanasia and the “right to die”—or to live. The Anticipatory Corpse: Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying, informed by Foucault’s genealogy of medicine and power as well as by a thorough grasp of current medical practices and medical ethics, argues that a view of people as machines in motion—people as, in effect, temporarily animated corpses with interchangeable parts—has become epistemologically normative for medicine. The dead body is subtly anticipated in our practices of exercising control over the suffering person, whether through technological mastery in the intensive care unit or through the impersonal, quasi-scientific assessments of psychological and spiritual “medicine.”

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Series: Notre Dame Studies in Medical Ethics


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xv

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pp. 1-27

One Sunday morning several years ago, Nancy met me after the early service at church.1 She walked up to me with the urgency of a determined woman. She said, “Jeff, I am yellow, and I need you to be my doctor.” I turned my eyes from engagement with Nancy to look carefully...

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1. Birthing the Clinic

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pp. 28-60

As with any project that begins by taking up a thesis of Michel Foucault, one must first discuss Foucault himself. That is, I must give some account of how I understand Foucault’s work, particularly his work on medicine, psychiatry, and the social sciences. Yet placing Foucault is no small task. ...

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2. Maturing the Clinic

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pp. 61-88

The development of medicine, in terms of Michel Foucault’s analysis, is not a continuous process, moving progressively forward. Different strands of medicine originating from different schools of thought co-existed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, often loosely woven together...

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Transition One

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pp. 89-95

I have argued that the medical school, where master, student, and patient encounter one another, is constituted by political agreements. Here, warring notions of science and practice are wedded together, and differences in ideas, however well or poorly thought-out, are minimized. ...

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3. The Machinations of Life

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pp. 96-118

Death in contemporary Western society is no longer an affair embedded in shared social contexts, from which it derives its significance. There are few cultural practices that prepare contemporary Westerners for death in the way they were prepared in earlier Western society, as Philippe Ariès...

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4. Embracing Death

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pp. 119-140

No practitioner of medicine wants to turn a person into an object, an object that he subjects to technological manipulation in the ICU. Yet the pragmatism of medicine focuses on ways to manipulate the physiological body. Medical scientists of the 1950s and 1960s focused their research...

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5. Commissioning Death: From Living Cadavers to Dead Brains

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pp. 141-167

The President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research published its findings in 1981 on the topic of brain death. The document, titled Defining Death,1 was the culmination of a long discussion beginning in the mid-1960s...

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6. The Exact Location of Death: From Brain to Sovereign

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pp. 168-196

The 1981 President’s Commission settled on two ways of diagnosing death: irreversible cessation of function of heart and lungs, or irreversible cessation of whole-brain function.1 The term “irreversible” is central to both, a point that I shall discuss later. With the support of a consensus-driven...

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7. The Sovereign Subject and Death

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pp. 197-222

Thus far I have claimed that, on the one hand, various attempts to redefine death—whether in the 1980s or in recent years—turn to physiological ideas to either define death or to define criteria by which one could claim that an individual has died, although several of these partisans...

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Transition Two

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pp. 223-226

In this book I have taken as my starting point Michel Foucault’s thesis that at the heart of medicine is a dead body. This dead body begins as an epistemological ground for medicine, but it also has metaphysical import. Time is frozen in the space of this body. Never mind that, in reality...

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8. The Discursive Turn

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pp. 227-252

Practitioners of medicine and psychiatry began to notice the crassness of functional biological/physiological medicine in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With the appearance in 1963 of such works as Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death, on the funeral industry,1...

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9. The Palliating Gaze

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pp. 253-278

Like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, addressed questions about the way medicine treated those for whom no curative therapy was possible. Whereas Kübler-Ross employed a psychological and psychiatric lens, Saunders...

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pp. 279-284

Medicine’s epistemology and its metaphysics, I have argued, shape the way we think of and care for the dying. Whether medicine’s epistemology structures its metaphysics or its metaphysics informs its epistemology is irrelevant. Metaphysics and epistemology often go hand in hand. ...

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10. Anticipating Life

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pp. 285-313

I want to believe that no doctor, nurse, psychologist, social worker, or chaplain enters the field of health care to exercise mastery over other people, to become part of a totalizing biopolitical regime, or to totalize the bodies of the dying. On their application forms to colleges and other schools...


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pp. 314-365


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pp. 366-392

Index [Includes About the Author and Back Cover]

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pp. 393-411

E-ISBN-13: 9780268075859
E-ISBN-10: 0268075859
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268022273
Print-ISBN-10: 0268022275

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Notre Dame Studies in Medical Ethics