The Phenomenology of Suffering in Medicine: Explorations in the Baltic Sea Region


The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Project type


Human suffering is a phenomenon absolutely central to medicine and medical ethics. To relieve suffering is a basic mission of medicine and ethical dilemmas are often formed as a result of not being able to do so in failing adequate knowledge of and/or means to deal with the suffering in question. It is a growing concern in medicine and medical ethics that suffering is not approached in a sufficiently broad way and that this overly narrow medical perspective leaves doctors, nurses and other health care professionals badly equipped to deal with ethical dilemmas. In this critique of medicine and medical ethics as relying on a too narrow view on suffering the research tradition of the humanities has often been evoked as a due supplement to medical science. In this research project we will take our starting point in a tradition that has formed a central part of the humanities during the 20th century: phenomenology and the related traditions of hermeneutics and narrative studies. We will attempt a phenomenological exploration of the concept of suffering in medicine and medical ethics by way of three closely connected studies.

The phenomenology of suffering will be approached by analyses of the phenomenon on different inter-tangled levels – feelings, everyday actions, relationship to others, central life values, life story – in a conceptual analysis (subproject one). We will attempt to forge bridges between this philosophical analysis and the real life situation of suffering in medicine by way of exploring examples of how suffering is approached in medical ethics teaching at five medical schools in Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Germany and Denmark (subproject two), and through a study of how Swedish health care professionals attempt to aid patients with severe suffering (subproject three). By linking these three projects closely together, we hope to bridge the gaps between philosophical analysis, medical education and clinical practice.

The diverse historical background of the Baltic Sea region makes it interesting to study how suffering is approached and conceptualized in medicine and medical ethics in the case of the different countries. The research project will add vital information about the set up and situation of medical ethics teaching in the different countries and it will, above all, point towards different ways in which phenomenology could be relevant to medicine and medical ethics in addressing suffering in various health care contexts.

Rof Ahlzén - Docent

Research area / geographic area

Culture and Education Studies in Practical Knowledge Centre for Studies in Practical Knowledge Critical and Cultural Theory Baltic Sea region and Eastern Europe Baltic Eastern Europe

Project time

2015 — 2019


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