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Moving Beyond Bioethics: History and the Search for Medical Humanism

From both within and without bioethics, growing criticism of the predominant methods and practices of the field can be heard. These critiques tend to lament an emphasis on logically derived rules and philosophical theories that inadequately capture how and why people have the moral attitudes they do, and they urge the use of more empirically grounded social sciences—history, sociology, and anthropology—to draw attention to the complex factors behind such attitudes. However, these critiques do not go far enough, as they do not question why debate over ethical categories should have such a central role in voicing concerns about medicine.The importance of using other forms of inquiry, especially that of history, to examine aspects of medical practice and the emergence of bioethics itself is not simply to refine bioethical moral analysis. Instead, history can be employed to counter the preoccupation with translating concerns about medicine into moral terms and to move towards what is more sorely needed: a true medical humanism.

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