Why Health Care Needs Melancholy Principles

Thursday, September 29, 2022 11:00to12:00
2001 McGill College room 1135 or Via Zoom, CA

Arthur FrankSeptember 29th, 2022
Coffee & croissants from 10:30-11:00; Lecture from 11:00-12:00 EST
Hybrid Event
School of Population and Global Health
2001 McGill College Avenue
room 1135
Montreal, Quebec, Canada  H3A 1G1
or via Zoom

Why Health Care Needs Melancholy Principles


How long and in what forms the multiple resistances to public health during the Covid pandemic will continue to reverberate remain uncertain. Health care professionals might dismiss the protests as nothing more than ill-informed epiphenomena of populist politics—not untrue—but that would evade a self-critique that can address both public and professional discontents that pre-date Covid. This lecture proposes one aspect of that critique.

The canonical principles of bioethics—autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice—self-consciously reflected an Enlightenment ideal of a rational, unified self, and that idealization affects the expectations of both patients and professionals. Those principles explicitly perpetuate an individualistic conception of both the patient and the healthcare worker, and they leave little space for the recognition of anyone’s suffering. I propose instead melancholy principles; that is, principles that foreground relatedness of selves in mutual dependence, inevitable shortcomings in responses to suffering, and layers of structural inequity. What’s at stake is rebalancing what both ill people and healthcare professionals expect of themselves, of each other, and of the institutional system in which they are mutually embedded.


Arthur W. Frank, Ph.D., FRSC
Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary


Arthur Frank is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Calgary. Since retirement, he has been a visiting professor at VID Specialized University in Oslo and, most recently, in the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. His books include At the Will of the Body and The Wounded Storyteller, an Italian translation of which just appeared. His awards include the medal in bioethics from the Royal Society of Canada and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Bioethics Society. His newest book, King Lear: Shakespeare’s Dark Consolations, will be published by Oxford University Press in November 2022.

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