Collective forward-looking responsibility of patient advocacy organizations: conceptual and ethical analysis

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-11 (2021)
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BackgroundPatient advocacy organizations (PAOs) have an increasing influence on health policy and biomedical research, therefore, questions about the specific character of their responsibility arise: Can PAOs bear moral responsibility and, if so, to whom are they responsible, for what and on which normative basis? Although the concept of responsibility in healthcare is strongly discussed, PAOs particularly have rarely been systematically analyzed as morally responsible agents. The aim of the current paper is to analyze the character of PAOs’ responsibility to provide guidance to themselves and to other stakeholders in healthcare.MethodsResponsibility is presented as a concept with four reference points: (1) The subject, (2) the object, (3) the addressee and (4) the underlying normative standard. This four-point relationship is applied to PAOs and the dimensions of collectivity and prospectivity are analyzed in each reference point.ResultsUnderstood as collectives, PAOs are, in principle, capable of intentionality and able to act and, thus, fulfill one prerequisite for the attribution of moral responsibility. Given their common mission to represent those affected, PAOs can be seen as responsible for patients’ representation and advocacy, primarily towards a certain group but secondarily in a broader social context. Various legal and political statements and the bioethical principles of justice, beneficence and empowerment can be used as a normative basis for attributing responsibility to PAOs.ConclusionsThe understanding of responsibility as a four-point relation incorporating collective and forward-looking dimensions helps one to understand the PAOs’ roles and responsibilities better. The analysis, thus, provides a basis for the debate about PAOs’ contribution and cooperation in the healthcare sector.



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Regina Müller
Institute of Philosophy, University of Bremen, Germany

References found in this work

Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments.R. Jay Wallace - 1994 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Collective Intentions and Actions.John Searle - 1990 - In Philip R. Cohen Jerry Morgan & Martha Pollack (eds.), Intentions in Communication. MIT Press. pp. 401-415.
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Moral responsibility in collective contexts.Tracy Isaacs - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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