045. History

A discussion on the means to our ends.


Questions to ponder

  1. Who are you and how will history remember you?
  2. Medical information is often treated differently than other sorts of information. An emphasis on privacy and integrity goes along with the sensitivity of the information. This can produce fragmentary systems where only certain parties only know certain things. To what extent does this alter the “objectivity” of one’s medical history?
  3. How should we take historical information into account for a present situation?
  4. Desperate times, we are told, often call for desperate measures. In today’s world there is talk of rescinding certain restrictions of established medical privacy law to facilitate the transmission of information during a quickly happening, slowly moving pandemic. How/Can we ensure information gets to where it’s needed and nowhere else?
  5. Is there a line (or set of lines) we can draw in which medical data is strictly the possession of the individual from which it comes and that data which is not? When data is “de-identified”/”anonymized” to what extent can the individual from whom it comes stake any claim?
  6. Nietzsche remarks “There is no set of maxims more important for an historian than … that everything that exists, no matter what its origins, is periodically reinterpreted… in terms of fresh intentions … in the course of which earlier meaning and purposes are necessarily either obscured or lost. … The whole history of custom, [thus] becomes a continuous chain of reinterpretations and rearrangements…” Why/Has medical practitioners’ “duties” (e.g., Hippocratic Oath) remained largely stable through successive reinterpretations? That is, we now allow “cutting for stone”, yet might still find wisdom in that contract to Apollo. Why?
  7. Baker (2002) contends that “If the unexamined life may not be worth living, then, in much the same way, advice by historically uninformed bioethicists may not be worth having.” How much history should be folded into bioethical discussions? Is there ahistorical bioethics? Must actions be justified by moral rules grounded in principles derived from ethical theories that will always be “of their time”? 
  8. Is bioethics a recent historical creation? If so, why so? If not, why not?
  9. History, so far as I can tell, is the best evidence we have to the question, “Should we keep going?” 
  10. How long should be our history?

Essays to consider

  1. Bioethics and History
  2. The History of Bioethics: Its Rise and Significance
  3. What can History do for Bioethics?
  4. “My Story Is Broken; Can You Help Me Fix It?”: Medical Ethics and the Joint Construction of Narrative