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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

New paper by Anna Magdalena Elsner in Literature and Medicine: Beyond Medical Paternalism: Undoing the Doctor-Patient Relationship in Simone de Beauvoir’s A Very Easy Death

In A Very Easy Death Simone de Beauvoir documents the illness, hospitalization, and death of her mother Françoise. Critics in the fields of bioethics and the medical humanities have concentrated on the text’s paternalistic doctor-patient encounter, which culminates in the withholding of the cancer diagnosis from Beauvoir’s mother and entails an unnecessary medical intervention to which the patient never consents. Reviewing the text’s reception, this article argues that a focus on the ways in which it depicts breaches of several tenets of medical ethics have decontextualized A Very Easy Death and occluded the key role Beauvoir plays in the doctor-patient relationship. By situating the text within Beauvoir’s œuvre and debates in French philosophy of medicine at the time of publication, this article proposes that Beauvoir’s part in the withholding of the cancer diagnosis emerges less as a submission to medical paternalism than as a form of maternal caregiving.


Simone de Beauvoir, Illness narratives, Doctor-patient relationship, End-of-life care, cancer, A Very Easy Death

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