New Perspectives on Medical Paternalism

10 07 2011

Hamburg University, 21 – 29 March 2012


(Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research)




The Spring School focuses on new problems of paternalism in medicine, specifically on paternalism in relation to public health, psychiatry, and medical services. It also in­cludes a strand that addresses the concept of paternalism. We will combine perspec­tives from philosophy, medical ethics, jurisprudence, and social sciences. Post-Docs, PhD-students and other Graduate Students are invited to submit abstracts (up to 300 words) and a short CV by 15 October 2011 on designated topics: Paternalism in re­lation 1) to public health, 2) to medical services, 3) to psychiatry, and 4) the concept of paternalism (see also aims and scope section below). Up to 15 participants will be chosen by a committee and invited to present their papers at the meeting; they will be notified by mid-November. The conference language will be English and only submissions in English will be accepted. Although we target mainly students from European countries we will be able to fund a small number of non-European students.


Participants will have the opportunity to discuss their ideas with renowned scholars. Confirmed speakers and discussants include Douglas Husak (Rutgers), Gerald Dworkin (UC Davis), Andrew von Hirsch (Cambridge), Bettina Schöne-Seifert (Münster), and Stefan Huster (Bochum). All costs (travel and subsistence, accommo­dation) will be covered and there will be a small honorarium for submitting a written paper. All papers will also be considered for publication in an edited collection. Please be advised that attendance of the whole conference is a requirement of par­ticipation.


Please send your abstract and CV to the organizer of the event, Professor Thomas Schramme, He is also happy to answer any queries.




Aims and Scope:


Modern developments in medicine raise new issues in relation to paternalism. The Spring School will focus on four strands in the discussion:


1) Public health has become a major focus of governments. Political means are used in combination with medical institutions to influence the decision making of citizens, sometimes in very subtle ways. Health promotion has therefore become an important site of issues of state paternalism. However, it still needs to be discussed what kind of interventions really are to be called paternalistic and how we should evaluate them. It seems that encouraging a healthy diet and informing about potentially harmful ingredients is different from banning particular food or even criminalizing its consumption and production. For instance, are „nudges“ to a healthier lifestyle really cases of paternalism, and, if so, are they less problematic than bans?


2) Another important example of new developments in medicine is medical services, such as enhancements, health promoting drugs or services in reproductive medicine. Occasionally a potential service has been criticized or banned on grounds of poten­tial harm even to a willing consumer of such services. Here, a person who wants to offer a service is intervened with in order to protect another person, i.e. a potential client. In the philosophical debate, this is called indirect paternalism. So far, there have been only sparse publications on this topic. Is indirect paternalism to be as­sessed in a different light than direct paternalism?


3) Although hardly a new topic, the issue of paternalism in psychiatry should also be addressed, not least because it has not been sufficiently tackled in the literature. Many people seem to assume that psychiatric patients are incompetent by definition, hence that a paternalistic intervention into their decision making is always a matter of so-called soft paternalism. But this is a contested assumption and needs discussion. It is an area that can help us to get a clearer grasp of the necessary capacities to make a voluntary choice, which is especially important when distinguishing between soft and hard paternalism.


4) Debates of the mentioned topics rely on a proper understanding of the concept of paternalism. Unfortunately, there is no one uncontested definition and there are sev­eral different conceptions available in different contexts. It is therefore vital to discuss the very concept of paternalism directly. Although conceptual analysis has been the main aim of philosophers, a discussion of the concept of paternalism need not be done only by using philosophical methods. A clearer grasp of such a contested con­cept might be achieved by the art of separating different usages.

Quelle: DGPhil




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