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Immersed subjectivity and engaged narratives: clinical epistemology and normative intricacy

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Gadow's understanding of nursing as a relational narrative anchored in a dialectic between the fundamental subjectivity of the individual client and the objectification of his illness poses some interesting questions for nursing ethics and care. For Gadow, nursing is an encounter with the immediate vulnerability of the client and also lends it responsibilities to the medical objectification of illness aiming at disease treatment and control. Hence, nursing agency is divided between its responsibilities induced by the personal vulnerability of the patient and the more impersonal, but benevolent intention shaped by medical knowledge. Medical knowledge is impersonal in the sense that it is knowledge detached from the subjectivity of the patient. But how is nursing able to reconcile the interests derived from personal and experienced vulnerability with the more impersonal and often conflicting demands of medical knowledge? This question is even more intriguing because there seems to be an objective dimension within a patient's subjectivity itself: an autonomous person can critically evaluate his own subjectivity as a basis for informed self-interest. The sick person is thus confronted with objectivity on two important levels: the objective facts of his disease and his detachment from his own experiential vulnerability when engaged in the critical evaluation of his self-interest. This paper will discuss the normative dimensions of these complex and, frequently, conflicting perspectives from the theoretical perspectives of Thomas Nagel's normative responsibility and Sally Gadow's clinical epistemology and relational narratives. The empirical basis for the discussion will be an ongoing study of the ethical dimensions of pain relief and sedation in an intensive care unit.

Keywords: Sally Gadow; autonomy; bioethics; ethics; intensive care; pain relief; sedation; subjectivity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of Nursing Science, University of Oslo, Blindern, Oslo, Norway

Publication date: 2003-07-01

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