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Medicine, power, and the care of the dying by Jeffrey Bishop, MD, PhD

Posted by Ryan "Bud" Marr on Mar 3, 2015 10:01:35 AM

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In contemporary culture, organ donation is generally viewed as a great gift, generously making possible the opportunity for someone else to live a healthier, more fulfilling life. As with most medical procedures, however, this practice raises a number of moral questions that are not easily resolved

In his provocative book, The Anticipatory Corpse, Jeffrey Bishop, MD, PhD, Director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics and Tenet Chair of Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University, confronts the ethical quandaries around organ procurement head on. 

Bishop is a social and moral philosopher, teaching medical ethics and philosophy at Saint Louis University. He is also a physician.

As the speaker for the March 4, 2015 Faith & Healing Speaker Series, Bishop will be addressing this topic at Mercy College with the goal of opening up a constructive dialogue not merely on organ transplantation in specific, but, more broadly, on how contemporary medicine cares for the dying.


In Bishop’s view, something has gone terribly amiss in the way that contemporary medicine cares for the dying. Bishop identifies the root cause of this problem as a faulty metaphysics, or philosophy of life. As he puts it, “[Contemporary] medicine’s metaphysics is one dominated by efficient causation — the animation of dead matter.” This predominant philosophy essentially views people as machines in motion, the body as something to be manipulated and controlled.  In its attempt to achieve mastery over death — to determine precisely when and how a person will die — medicine “has pulled the dead body out of community,” Bishop argues, and “stripped it of its communal significance.” These developments have not only led to troubling absurdities in contemporary medical practice (for example, procuring organs from a “dead” donor whose “living” body remains supported by a ventilator so as to keep the organs viable), but have also made it more difficult for the dying to explore the meaning and purpose of life in close relation with their family and friends.  

This brief overview can hardly do justice to Bishop’s trenchant analysis of how modern medical practitioners approach care of the dying. To gain a fuller picture of Bishop’s view on these topics, you could read his 2012 article, “The End of Life and the Amorality of Medicine,” or listen to an interview he conducted with Natasha Mitchell of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. For an insightful review of Bishop’s book, see the following piece by Amy MacInnis. If this post has piqued your interest in Bishop’s work, we hope that you’ll join us on the evening of March 4 for a lively conversation around the ethics of caring for the dying and their loved ones. 

Join us in the Sullivan Center –
Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa Lecture Hall
 on the Mercy College campus
from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday March 4, 2015

Refreshments will be served. Open to the Public.

Free Registration

Topics: Ethics in Medicine