Volume 3, 2011
Mary Beth Morrissey
Expanding Consciousness of Suffering at the End of Life
An Ethical and Gerontological Response in Palliati Ve Social Work
This analysis explores the phenomenology of suffering and temporal, genetic and social developmental aspects of suffering for seriously ill older adults. A phenomenological account of suffering is advanced using oral history data from in-depth interviews with a seriously ill, frail elderly woman. The analysis evaluates how a phenomenological account of suffering may inform ethics in end-of-life decision making, and may provide a further basis for an integrated ethical and gerontological response to suffering in palliative social work practice with seriously ill older adults at the end of life. Levinas’s ethical philosophy and conceptualizations of the non-totalizing relation of self to other, disinterest, and radical passivity are employed to help reframe an approach to the ethical relation and the nature of obligation in end-of-life care, expanding consciousness of suffering and its meanings in an intersubjectively experienced world. Differences in Husserl’s account of the other and the concept of alterity in Levinas’s ethics are explored in the context of phenomenology as a descriptive science that respond directly to the pragmatic concerns of the analysis.