The discipline emerged in its present form in the United States in a religious context at the end of the 1960s. The declared aim was to humanise medical practice that had reached its techno-scientific turning-point, characterised by the increasing dominance of the machine over the sickbed. It is in fact to the theologian Edmund Pellegrino that the debt is owed for the propagation of medical humanities as a particular development of bioethics. In this regard, our reflection is also set in areas outside bioethics because we feel that bioethics alone does not allow for the containment of the risk of the patient becoming disorientated as a result of his treatment – due to the fact that the desire to make therapies more effective leads to the progressive and more and more profound splitting up of the sick person. And it is precisely in order to combat this psychological vulnerability caused by the illness that medical humanities tries to benefit from the cultural contribution that can come, for example, from philosophy, anthropology, sociology, literature and psychology. For us it is a way to hear, see and think the illness, introducing into scientific rationality that symbolic dimension which should contribute to orienting the taking into care. In the view of medical humanities, elements of the patient’s biography are especially important. His personal narrative, his account of himself and his own story, of his suffering, anxieties and fears constitute the profoundly human aspect that must be considered with respect. To recognise the other as a person is the prerequisite for providing care, the essential authentic basis on which the different branches of knowledge can then exercise their respective expertise. This essential basis must come before any moral judgement: life-stories, we might say, come before ethical theories. Medical humanities does not constitute a new profession but restores to medical practice that dimension of profound empathy which characterises every true form of human solidarity and help. It thus opens up a cognitive and interpretive challenge regarding the illness itself and presumes to take part in the construction of both diagnosis and therapy. The wish on the part of carers to be involved in medical humanities and to seek its real significance begins with the will to care better, more and more humanely, attentive to the dignity and frailty of the patient. This concern has its roots in the history of medicine and its battles; from this perspective medical humanities is therefore an historical science which faces up to the tradition, achievements and limits of medical thought. It is of course also an ethical science that reflects on the values and choices of carers confronted with the imponderable, the inexorable and at times the limit of life, knowing how to modulate both charity and autonomy with regard to the patient as well as distributive justice with regard to society. With a critical frame of mind, medical humanities tries to give prominence to the real sense within which medicine, sometimes without giving it due importance, operates. It can fulfil an identifying role for carers, reinforcing in them a sense of responsibility towards their individual functions. In order to fulfil the therapeutic task, it is useful to adopt a reflective habit that leads to questioning basic matters: how is my practice situated in the society in which I live? What values do I live up to and which do I betray through my gestures? What do I actually do when I carry out a certain number of medical actions? What models do I refer to, implicitly or explicitly, when considering my practice? The ethics of medical humanities is complex and recognises the complexity of good and bad, where “bad” can become “good” as “good” can become “bad”. Daniel Callahan reminds us that scientific progress, if understood narrowly and left at the mercy of unrestrained biotechnology and cutting-edge medicine with no economic limits, can make us forget the intrinsic meaning of vulnerability and suffering. Medical humanities thus presents itself as the capacity to resist: infused with the ethics of resistance that Edgar Morin has spoken so much about. The principal of vulnerability, recognised in the 1998 Declaration of Barcelona, is here fundamental: it emphasises the moral sense of man’s vulnerability and consequently points out that men, as vulnerable, are dependent beings and live in a condition of interdependence. Vulnerability means “susceptible to being hurt and falling victim to violence”: it is an essential component of those who, just because vulnerable, need help and opens the possibility to everyone of taking upon themselves the vulnerability of others. Medical humanities must thus widen its range of action from the sick to the weaker and relatively defenceless members of society: from the disabled to the mentally ill, from children to women, from citizens without medical insurance to third-world victims of epidemics, from the marginalised to social outcasts. In this sense we can thus speak of medical humanities as the undertaking of an ethical responsibility that involves not only the individual patient but also the whole community, which will be judged precisely on how it provides for its weaker members. Medical humanities is not a mere ornament of treatment, it is not simply a way to make the carer-patient relationship more humane, it is not practices of good behaviour or a technique for improving the act of communication, but it is rather practical and theoretical knowledge able to emphasise in the experience of the illness the idea of man placed between his destiny and his destination, between biology and transcendence. Medical humanities is thus a style, a spirit of things, of hearing, glance, word and gesture, which summons the presence of everything that is human and non-human surrounding everyday life.

1Cf. Spinsanti, S., Una prospettiva storica, in Bucci, R (ed.) Manuale di medical humanities, Zadig, Roma, 2006.
2Cf. Resistere alle barbarie. A colloquio con Edgar Morin, interview with Roberto Malacrida, in Rivista per le Medical Humanities, Anno 1, no 1, 2007, pp. 37-46.
3Cf. Martignoni, Graziano, La voce di chi non ha più voce, in Gioranle del Popolo, 21 June 2013.

The discipline emerged in its present form in the United States in a religious context at the end of the 1960s. The declared aim was to humanise medical practice that had reached its techno-scientific turning-point, characterised by the increasing dominance of the machine over the sickbed. It is in fact to the theologian Edmund Pellegrino that the debt is owed for the propagation of medical humanities as a particular development of bioethics. In this regard, our reflection is also set in areas outside bioethics because we feel that bioethics alone does not allow for the containment of the risk of the patient becoming disorientated as a result of his treatment – due to the fact that the desire to make therapies more effective leads to the progressive and more and more profound splitting up of the sick person. And it is precisely in order to combat this psychological vulnerability caused by the illness that medical humanities tries to benefit from the cultural contribution that can come, for example, from philosophy, anthropology, sociology, literature and psychology. For us it is a way to hear, see and think the illness, introducing into scientific rationality that symbolic dimension which should contribute to orienting the taking into care. In the view of medical humanities, elements of the patient’s biography are especially important. His personal narrative, his account of himself and his own story, of his suffering, anxieties and fears constitute the profoundly human aspect that must be considered with respect. To recognise the other as a person is the prerequisite for providing care, the essential authentic basis on which the different branches of knowledge can then exercise their respective expertise. This essential basis must come before any moral judgement: life-stories, we might say, come before ethical theories. Medical humanities does not constitute a new profession but restores to medical practice that dimension of profound empathy which characterises every true form of human solidarity and help. It thus opens up a cognitive and interpretive challenge regarding the illness itself and presumes to take part in the construction of both diagnosis and therapy. The wish on the part of carers to be involved in medical humanities and to seek its real significance begins with the will to care better, more and more humanely, attentive to the dignity and frailty of the patient. This concern has its roots in the history of medicine and its battles; from this perspective medical humanities is therefore an historical science which faces up to the tradition, achievements and limits of medical thought. It is of course also an ethical science that reflects on the values and choices of carers confronted with the imponderable, the inexorable and at times the limit of life, knowing how to modulate both charity and autonomy with regard to the patient as well as distributive justice with regard to society. With a critical frame of mind, medical humanities tries to give prominence to the real sense within which medicine, sometimes without giving it due importance, operates. It can fulfil an identifying role for carers, reinforcing in them a sense of responsibility towards their individual functions. In order to fulfil the therapeutic task, it is useful to adopt a reflective habit that leads to questioning basic matters: how is my practice situated in the society in which I live? What values do I live up to and which do I betray through my gestures? What do I actually do when I carry out a certain number of medical actions? What models do I refer to, implicitly or explicitly, when considering my practice? The ethics of medical humanities is complex and recognises the complexity of good and bad, where “bad” can become “good” as “good” can become “bad”. Daniel Callahan reminds us that scientific progress, if understood narrowly and left at the mercy of unrestrained biotechnology and cutting-edge medicine with no economic limits, can make us forget the intrinsic meaning of vulnerability and suffering. Medical humanities thus presents itself as the capacity to resist: infused with the ethics of resistance that Edgar Morin has spoken so much about. The principal of vulnerability, recognised in the 1998 Declaration of Barcelona, is here fundamental: it emphasises the moral sense of man’s vulnerability and consequently points out that men, as vulnerable, are dependent beings and live in a condition of interdependence. Vulnerability means “susceptible to being hurt and falling victim to violence”: it is an essential component of those who, just because vulnerable, need help and opens the possibility to everyone of taking upon themselves the vulnerability of others. Medical humanities must thus widen its range of action from the sick to the weaker and relatively defenceless members of society: from the disabled to the mentally ill, from children to women, from citizens without medical insurance to third-world victims of epidemics, from the marginalised to social outcasts. In this sense we can thus speak of medical humanities as the undertaking of an ethical responsibility that involves not only the individual patient but also the whole community, which will be judged precisely on how it provides for its weaker members. Medical humanities is not a mere ornament of treatment, it is not simply a way to make the carer-patient relationship more humane, it is not practices of good behaviour or a technique for improving the act of communication, but it is rather practical and theoretical knowledge able to emphasise in the experience of the illness the idea of man placed between his destiny and his destination, between biology and transcendence. Medical humanities is thus a style, a spirit of things, of hearing, glance, word and gesture, which summons the presence of everything that is human and non-human surrounding everyday life.

1Cf. Spinsanti, S., Una prospettiva storica, in Bucci, R (ed.) Manuale di medical humanities, Zadig, Roma, 2006.
2Cf. Resistere alle barbarie. A colloquio con Edgar Morin, interview with Roberto Malacrida, in Rivista per le Medical Humanities, Anno 1, no 1, 2007, pp. 37-46.
3Cf. Martignoni, Graziano, La voce di chi non ha più voce, in Gioranle del Popolo, 21 June 2013.

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