Abstract

The patient–physician relationship is of primary importance for medical ethics, but it also teaches broader lessons about ethics generally. This is particularly true for the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas whose ethics is grounded in the other who “faces” the subject and whose suffering provokes responsibility. Given the pragmatic, situational character of Levinasian ethics, the “face of the other” may be elucidated by an analogy with the “face of the patient.” To do so, I draw on examples from Martin Winckler’s fictional physician narratives. In addition, I explore how the standpoint of the physician conceals a related but often unacknowledged dimension of care: the obligation to nurse. For both nurse and physician, one question encapsulates Levinas’ medical ethics: “What does the patient say?” Using this as my guiding question, I examine the context within which physician, nurse, and patient meet in order to highlight their shared vulnerability and the care relationship that binds them together.

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