A medicine of personal meaning does not necessarily depend on health or healing

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Stephen Buetow


A decade ago I called for a medicine of meaning (MOM) but incorrectly deduced that MOM always depends on healing and helping.  I now wish to suggest that the practice of medicine need not promote the healing or health of individual patients in order for them to find or create meaning in their lives.  Personal meaning can be enhanced by medicine in the presence of ill-health, but enhancement medicine is increasingly used to help healthy patients add meaning to their lives.  Debate on the moral legitimacy of the medical enhancements has yet to furnish agreement, yet person-centred medicine reminds us how patients, as people, have a right and responsibility to freely make and act on subjectively rational choices about how to do and be what they want.  It respects their autonomy to select from medical options that can enhance meaning for them.  My paper sketches the content of a new MOM before anticipating and answering objections. 

Article Details

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Author Biography

Stephen Buetow, University of Auckland

Stephen Buetow is an Associate Professor in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, New Zealand, having also held academic positions in primary care in Australia (National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health) and England (National Primary Care Research and Development Centre in Manchester). With a PhD in Demography from the Australian National University and a broad background in the humanities and social sciences, Stephen produces health services research in diverse areas, with a particular analytical focus on challenging the clinician-centric discourse underpinning modern health care.  He has published two books and 100 peer reviewed papers (H-index of 16) in Journals including the Lancet and British Medical Journal.  Stephen is both a member of the Editorial Board and a regional (Oceania) Editor for the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice and the International Journal of Person-Centred Medicine.  In New Zealand he is a Public Health Research Committee member of the Health Research Council and has chaired several of its public health assessing committees.  He coordinates a postgraduate research methods course and has contributed significant service to his University, for example as Acting Head of Department during 2009-10.


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