The Role of Existential Philosophy in Health Care: The Cases of Germany, Denmark, and Sweden
The aim of the present research project is to explore how existential issues occur and are dealt with in health care against the backdrop of existential philosophy. We focus upon three specific practices in which existential matters are acute: 1) screening for Downs syndrome in early pregnancy, 2) the role of care coordinators in the care of terminal renal failure and abdominal cancer, and 3) the issue of physician assisted death in palliative care.
Comparative studies of the situations in Germany, Denmark, and Sweden will be carried out by way of in depth interviews, participant observation, and media studies, and the collected material will be analysed through a focus on issues central to existential philosophy, such as freedom, vulnerability, responsibility, empathy, limit situation, and life narrative. In connection with the empirical studies, philosophical and ethical issues will be dealt with in normative analyses of how existential philosophy may enrichen the practices focused upon in the empirical investigations and how these in turn could develop issues in existential philosophy.
The project focuses particularly on the philosophy of Karl Jaspers, a key thinker in philosophy of psychiatry and existential philosophy, the work of whom we believe to be under researched and potentially very fruitful for a study of existential issues in health care. The key works of existential philosophy were written in the 1910s-40s and had their main impact during the heydays of the existentialism made famous by philosophers such as Heidegger and Sartre. Since then the practical issues of dealing with limit situations – the concept is taken from Jaspers’ philosophy – have to a large extent been transferred from philosophy departments and religious institutions to hospitals.
Doctors and other health care professionals have become our new experts in existential issues but the question is if they in every case have the adequate competence and interests to deal with these issues in a thorough manner. We will explore if existential philosophy – and in particular the work of Jaspers – has the potential to make us better understand and deal with ethical issues occurring in: 1) screening for Downs syndrome in early pregnancy, 2) the role of care coordinators in the care of terminal renal failure and abdominal cancer, and 3) making decisions concerning physician assisted death in palliative care.