Care and the self: biotechnology, reproduction, and the good life
This paper explores a novel philosophy of ethical care in the face of burgeoning biomedical technologies. I respond to a serious challenge facing traditional bioethics with its roots in analytic philosophy. The hallmarks of these traditional approaches are reason and autonomy, founded on a belief in the liberal humanist subject. In recent years, however, there have been mounting challenges to this view of human subjectivity, emerging from poststructuralist critiques, such as Michel Foucault's, but increasingly also as a result of advances in biotechnology itself. In the face of these developments, I argue that the theoretical relevance and practical application of mainstream bioethics is increasingly under strain. Traditionalists will undoubtedly resist. Together, professional philosopher-bioethicists, public health policymakers, and the global commercial healthcare industry tend to respond conservatively by shoring up the liberal humanist subject as the foundation for medical ethics and consumer decision-making, appealing to the familiar tropes of reason, autonomy, and freedom.
I argue for a different approach to bioethics, and work towards a new way to conceive of ethical relations in healthcare – one that does not presume a sovereign subject as the basis of dignity, personhood or democracy. Instead, I am critical of the narrow instantiations of reason, autonomy, and freedom, which, more recently, have been co-opted by a troubling neo-liberal politics of the self. Thus, I am critical of current trends in medical ethics, often running in tandem with corporate-governmental models of efficiency, accountability, and so-called evidence-based best practices. As an example of such market-driven conceptions of subjectivity, I discuss the paradigm of "self-care." Self-care shores up the traditional view of the self as a free agent. In this sense, self-care is looked upon favourably by mainstream bioethics in its focus on autonomy, while healthcare policy endorses this model for ideological and economic reasons. To contrast this, I propose a different model of care together with a different model of selfhood. Here I develop and apply Foucault's late work on the "care of the self." In this understanding of "care," I suggest that we might work towards an ethical self that is more commensurable both with recent theoretical views on subjectivity and – more pressingly – with the challenges of emergent biotechnologies. I end this paper with a discussion on ethical parenthood, which offers a practical reading of the "care of the self" in relation to new reproductive technologies (NRTs).
Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2007, 2:6. doi:10.1186/1747-5341-2-6
Murray, S. J. (2007). Care and the self: Biotechnology, reproduction, and the good life. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine : PEHM, 2(1), 6-6. doi:10.1186/1747-5341-2-6