Research plan

This international network aims to develop new theoretical and practical approaches that can address the contemporary challenges posed by responsibilities created by new forms of healthcare practice. In particular: we will examine the significance of people’s key relationships (such as family and community) and how they deliberate and make decisions about their responsibilities. Research questions and themes that will be addressed include:

  1. Characterizing what ‘family’ means. There are somunderstandings of family that are so self-evident that it becomes relatively easy to miss the varied historical, cultural, political, and social structures and processes that inform what counts as family across different locations and contexts. We need to tease out entry and exit conditions from the category of family, as well as how to understand the character of family responsibilities.
  2.  Why families matter. We make the case for why families are morally valuable in terms of their significance, however structured or experienced, in constituting the self. Across different family forms, intimate care relationships are of vital importance to nurturing and valuing the connected self. At the same time more reflection is needed on the varieties of moral pull among family members and the normativity of partiality
  3. Negotiating responsibilities. Relationships give rise to moral responsibilities, so once the self is situated within the nest of relationships that constitute a family, the next task is to critically address how moral responsibilities operate there. For instance, what is the meaning of ‘acting responsibly’ with regard to family members, in particular in situations of conflicting interests or difficult health care decisions? Results for ongoing research in the fields of medical reproductive and genetic technology by different partners will be used as field of application of new theoretical insights (Especially by Munthe, Verkerk, Kihlbom, Zeiler, Schues, Rehman-Sutter, PEALS)
  4. Familial roles in decision making.The exclusive focus on individual autonomy as construed by liberal moral theory poses almost daily difficulties in different health care and social service situations. It appears to miss a very significant social and material reality, namely, that the individuals in question are rarely in a purely unattached/autonomous position. Instead their location within a range of ongoing responsibilities and relationships will inform the nature of the care they prefer. Often they will want others with whom they are in relationships to participate in the care they seek and decisions they make. These relations and responsibilities can mean that the choices made may appear counter to what is best for them as individuals, but may be what they believe best responds to the broader contexts in which they live
  5. Justice in the use of family care giving resources. The immense growth of health care costs, coupled with the aging of many national populations and the moral commitment to provide all people access to care, raises serious questions of justice in the distribution of health care resources, forcing an acknowledgement that the interest of patients, central as they are, must be balanced against other social needs and values. Families’ needs, interests, and values must be allowed a place in this balancing process. Societies must not continue to proceed as though the demands on families for care are costless.

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