Narrative Story Telling in Ethical Decision Making
A quick glance at the syllabus of a bioethics course shows a central theme of all bioethics is standard ethical frameworks of virtue ethics, utilitarianism, deontology, et cetera. Normative ethics has established this framework as a guide to decision making, wherein we input our quandary and out comes our answer. This algorithmic approach to framing ethical issues works in the circumstances around which they were designed, however, they were designed under the assumption of the homogenous identity of a specific individual. These ethical frameworks do not, however, work for individuals who do not share the same social circumstances as the individuals who synthesize these ethical frameworks or use them in practice.
Interpreting the lives, experiences, and stories of an individual other than oneself presents a host of issues largely based on identity. One’s life is not composed solely of superficial experiences, which as an outsider we then interpret as the universal truth of their existence.. Instead, the way we see other people’s lives is informed by race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, ability. Thus, when we analyze the ontology of an individual, the first question we must ask is how the intersectionality of these factors influence our perception. This is key to deconstructing the problems of our dogmatic approach to ethics.
Narrative based ethics is straightforward in its approach to ethical quandaries. It is a form of storytelling that restructures the premise of ethics around an alternative or ignored reality by considering “perspective, viewpoint, and the power of stories and persuasion” (Delgado 38). This narrative may be radically different between individuals. As an example, normative ethical doctrine is based on various preconceptions and myths that allow us to make assumptions as to the goals and objectives of people. This leads to a form of structural determinism wherein the ethical fate of cases is determined by the accepted truths of ethicists. Narratives avoid this as they force us to consider the individual circumstances through life stories, instead of our gendered, racialized, and heteronormative approach.
The current dialogue on medical ethics has been unyielding in its ability to change with the times. Instead of reshaping the epistemology of applied ethics, we use arbitrary contingencies that we accept as universal. This ignores the experiences of the marginalized, while conveying the feeling that our ethical outcomes are functional.
Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York UP, 2001. Print.
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