Health as a virtue: a philosophical approach to terminal illness

Pritchard, Barbara Jane (1999) Health as a virtue: a philosophical approach to terminal illness. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The study will seek a philosophical approach to terminal illness based on virtue ethics. The purpose is to find a framework in which the pursuit of health is regarded as an aspect of a person's character to be developed through life along with other virtues.
Terminal illness has been chosen as the focus of the study because it best challenges the preoccupation with cure of western medicine. The structure of institutional healthcare is presented as being influenced by remaining traditions of dualism, Newtonian science and Christianity which together jeopardise the viability of recent efforts towards patient autonomy. Such medicine tcnds towards treating symptoms rather than a patient as a whole. Philosophically this structure finds allegiance most closely with the goal oriented utilitarianism.
Faced with terminal illness in an environment of finite resources the temptation is towards euthanasia. The implication is that in existing institutional healthcare patients are not sufficiently empowered to make informed decisions about best options.
By contrast the work carried out in hospices is used as an example of a flatter structure of healthcare more in-keeping with a model where the individual is morally responsible for his or her health. The study points the way to the establishment of a community healthcare committed to education rather than cure. Where possible, it will be argued that the maintenance of health belongs to each individual. Economically this is seen as a cheaper means of providing healthcare for everyone. The philosophical disposition of such a person is put forward as towards virtue. A person spends a whole lifetime developing the
pursuit of health as an aspect of character.
The thesis argues that, by living a life of virtue in relation to health, a person ought to be in a position, if and when faced with terminal illness, to understand his or her moral position and to be able to make truly autonomous decisions at the end of life. The study will argue that those unable to be autonomous or virtuous in relation to health ought to be cared for by a revamped institutional healthcare system. By such means, the thesis attempts to avoid the creation of a
two tier system.

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