Literature, History and the Humanization of Bioethics

An interesting paper entitled Literature, History and the Humanization of Bioethics by Nathan Emmerich (Bioethics, 9999 (9999) 2010) quotes from Self’s Leberknödel story from Liver. The full text can be obtained here, but this is the relevant section:

“There is little doubt that literature can be a tool for the teaching of bioethics. Consider this passage from one of Will Self’s short stories:

“Joyce washed down the chocolate sludge with a second gulp of the bitter anti-emetic. ‘Do please remember’, Dr Hohl said, ‘that any of these times, Mrs Beddoes, you are able to make the mind change, yes?’ He had said this at least three times before, and on each occasion Joyce had relied, ‘I understand.’ It was, she grasped, the very call and respond of assisted suicide: Dr Hohl was the priest, announcing the credo, and she was the congregation of one that affirmed it.”
[Will Self, Liver, p85]

“It is difficult to express or imagine what the reality of an assisted suicide clinic might be. One can imagine all sorts of contingencies and eventualities which, from the perspective of analytic philosophy, can be dismissed as not being fatal to the possibility of an assisted suicide clinic being moral or ethical. Yet in this passage, Self expresses one concern with such clinics which is that they may become banally ritualized; where well meaning mandated opportunities to bring a halt to proceedings actually become automated, ritualized steps along the way. In doing so he illustrates the challenge this aspect of ethical regulation brings to actual practice. His work also presents the alienation of the self from the self as a consequence of the protagonist being taken out of her home and of her own country in order to access the services of this clinic. Moral insights presented in literary form can of course cut both ways in ethical argument or, perhaps more often, present and engage the reader with an uncertain, ambivalent and ambiguous moral landscape. In this instance the representations of literature contextualize and particularize the assisted suicide clinic and, in doing so, can give one pause for thought in a debate often characterized by entrenched positions and polemical argumentation.”