Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bioethics Summer Reading

Rosemary Flanigan
July 20, 2010

The new Hastings Center Report came through our mailbox and it contains “four essays through the lens of literature.” Wouldn’t you know-- two of them were written by Kansas Citians: Martha Montello and John Lantos.

What a treat!!

Martha shows failure (Jodi Picoult’s novels) when the author raises the issues but doesn’t really address them through the unfolding of the story; John shows how often science seems to offer both redemption and doom (cure but at what price?) through the telling of the story.

These are wonderful essays to read and they raise the use of “the story” in ethical analysis. How often do we recount an example, tell a story, as we break open a case? If the “story” is apt, it sheds light on a certain perspective—as do all of our arguments. But how much more beguiling—and more easily recalled—is the “story” from the reasoned-out argument?

Martha says, “Fiction, John Gardner once said, is a moral laboratory. Through well-crafted narratives, a reader examines how a singular person, situated in a specific context, might live a life. A novel that pursues this kind of inquiry with integrity and passion may not only capture the particularities of experience, but also the very processes by which we reach moral understanding and make our choices.”

And John adds that the true story as well as the novel can illustrate new knowledge and offer us new possibilities—in any case, they can “enlarge our imagination.”

“Narrative ethics,” as this kind of analysis has come to be named has much going for it, but the two essayists remind us to read carefully.



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