The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 19, Issue 4, Winter 2019

Graciela Ortiz
Pages 569-581

Principlist and Personalist Approaches to Compassion

One’s understanding of compassionate care and one’s response to suffering depend on one’s bioethical framework. This paper contrasts the principlist bioethical model with the personalist bioethical model. These emphasize different principles, definitions, and understandings of concepts such as autonomy, compassion, suffering, harm, and help. The principlist model regards euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide as acts of autonomy and compassion that eradicate suffering. This perspective fails to keep in mind that autonomous patients do not always act for their own good. Conversely, the personalist perspective emphasizes the integral good of the person, not just his or her autonomous choice, which is important but not unlimited. Since support for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide often is motivated by a fear of suffering, being a burden, or depending on others, addressing the underlying factors that drive people to contemplate a hastened death is a more genuinely compassionate response than merely respecting people’s autonomous choice for a hastened death.