Global Feelings of Vulnerability to Disease, Disasters Impact Bioethics, Says ten Have

In his second book on bioethics published this year, Dr. Henk ten Have, director of Duquesne University's Center for Healthcare Ethics, looks at the global sense of vulnerability to disease, disasters and environmental changes.

Ten Have's book, Vulnerability: Challenging Bioethics, (Routledge, 252 pages) explains and elaborates on this new concept of vulnerability in bioethics. While vulnerability is typically framed as an individual weakness, ten Have examines the phenomenon as being created through the social and economic conditions of a person's life.

"Senior citizens are vulnerable, not so much because they themselves lack autonomy but because social protection is lacking," ten Have said. "Society views health as an individual problem. It does not provide community support yet is in the position to reduce pensions and to let prices for common medications explode."

Globalization, in particular, has made everyone more vulnerable, ten Have observed. "It feels like we no longer have any control over what can benefit and hurt us in the larger world," he said.

The Routledge website explained, "We feel vulnerable to disease as new infections spread rapidly across the globe, while disasters and climate change make health increasingly precarious. Moreover, clinical trials of new drugs often exploit vulnerable populations in developing countries that otherwise have no access to health care, and new genetic technologies make people with disabilities vulnerable to discrimination. Therefore the concept of 'vulnerability' has contributed new ideas to the debates about the ethical dimensions of medicine and health care."

In this book, ten Have takes readers through the growing interest in vulnerability, as well as the bioethical discussion that argues vulnerability is no longer seen as a weakness and fragility of individuals, so better health and health care do not require more individual autonomy.

"We should be aware that we share the same human condition and one planet," ten Have said. "Vulnerability is not a deficiency but a motivation and challenge to improve the common conditions in which we may all flourish."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.