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THEORY AND PRACTICE OF CLINICAL ETHICS SUPPORT SERVICES: NARRATIVE AND HERMENEUTICAL PERSPECTIVES

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ABSTRACT

In this paper we introduce narrative and hermeneutical perspectives to clinical ethics support services (CESS). We propose a threefold consideration of ‘theory’ and show how it is interwoven with ‘practice’ as we go along. First, we look at theory in its foundational role: in our case ‘narrative ethics’ and ‘philosophical hermeneutics’ provide a theoretical base for clinical ethics by focusing on human identities entangled in stories and on moral understanding as a dialogical process. Second, we consider the role of theoretical notions in helping practitioners to understand their situation in clinical ethics practice, by using notions like ‘story’, ‘responsibility’, or ‘vulnerability’ to make explicit and explain their practical experience. Such theoretical notions help us to interpret clinical situations from an ethical perspective and to foster moral awareness of practitioners. And, thirdly, we examine how new theoretical concepts are developed by interpreting practice, using practice to form and improve our ethical theory. In this paper, we discuss this threefold use of theory in clinical ethics support services by reflecting on our own theoretical assumptions, methodological steps and practical experiences as ethicists, and by providing examples from our daily work. In doing so, we illustrate that theory and practice are interwoven, as theoretical understanding is dependent upon practical experience, and vice‐versa.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Ethics Unit of the Bern University Hospital in Switzerland 2: Department of Medical Humanities of the EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care research, VU University Medical Centre, The Netherlands

Publication date: September 1, 2011

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