Narrative ethics, narrative structure

Anne Hudson Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


By 1999, when Atul Gawande's essay "Whose Body Is It, Anyway?" appeared in The New Yorker, patient autonomy had largely trumped physician paternalism in American medical practice. Gawande uses the stories of actual patients to attempt his counter case for physicians' "talking patients through their decisions." Toward the end of his essay, Gawande acknowledges that "many ethicists find this line of reasoning disturbing," but he reassures his readers that "the real task isn't to banish paternalism; the real task is to preserve kindness." What troubles me, however, is not so much the ethical position Gawande takes but the way he structures his narrative to support his position. "Whose Body Is It, Anyway?" offers an important example for close scrutiny because, in my experience, it so effectively engages readers-especially medical students-and persuades them to accept the ethical position it puts forward. Yet Gawande's own reflections about this issue do not stop with this essay. As he has gained clinical experience, he has continued his ethical reflections, and the stories that he tells have changed significantly over the years. I will argue here that close reading and careful narrative scrutiny can alert those who read this essay apart from Gawande's later work to some of the pitfalls in this kind of narrative ethics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S32-S35
JournalHastings Center Report
Issue numberSUPPL.1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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