Medical Humanities and Bioethics

Climate change that affects human health. Medical technology that evokes ethical, existential and sociocultural questions. Lived experiences of illness that feed into one’s self-understanding and agency.

The above are three examples of research areas that I work with within medical humanities and bioethics. Medical humanities is an interdisciplinary research field at the intersection between the humanities, the (qualitative) social sciences, and medicine. The field of medical humanities studies, for example, conditions for human existence in the light of and in encounters with biomedicine and healthcare. Broadly speaking, bioethics addresses ethical questions evoked within the life sciences.

My research exemplifies medical humanities and bioethics, and has done so since 1998. It examines ethical, philosophical, and socio-cultural aspects of the development and use of medical and care practices and public health practices, often from phenomenological, hermeneutical, empirically philosophical and feminist theoretical perspectives. I also often engage with work within anthropology, medical sociology, and science and technology studies, and I find it fruitful to combine empirical research with philosophical analysis. As a result, much of my research has an interdisciplinary character.

One of my professional roles is director of the Centre for Medical Humanities and Bioethics. The objectives of the centre are to promote and enable research, teaching and collaboration. A further objective is to function as a platform for meetings between researchers from different disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds, and between researchers, healthcare personnel and other societal actors. I see collaboration – interdisciplinary and with different societal actors – as interesting, productive, and necessary to address complex questions and future challenges.

Medical technology, bodies, health and ethics: Research

My research has three main foci. I examine ethical, philosophical, and socio-cultural aspects of the development and use of technologies in healthcare. My research also examines lived experiences of illness, health, suffering, and pain, and the role of embodiment for subjectivity and agency. Further, I study knowledge production – how knowledge and norms about knowledge are produced and what get to count as knowledge – within healthcare, public health, and health care policies and recommendations.

The on-going project A Feminist Approach to Medical Screening (funded by the Swedish Research Council; Consolidator Grant) combines these three foci. Within this project, colleagues and I study the ethical, existential and sociocultural aspects of early testing and screening for cognitive impairment and/or dementia, preconception carrier screening in the Netherlands. We also analyse a health questionnaire, Skolbarns hälsovanor, sent out to teenagers in Swedish schools, and the views and experiences of teenagers when completing this questionnaire. Further, the project explores how to combine feminist (and other) phenomenology and insights from STS and it will result in articles, books, and an artefact that help promote reflection on one or more of these practices, and more generally on screening. In another project, “Ontological security in a transforming world” (a project within the Seed Box research program, funded by Mistra and Formas), some other colleagues and I explore lived experiences of climate change when these affect one’s own life and health. We combine this analysis with investigations of practical and political perspectives on the societal transformations that are needed to meet the challenges of climate change. In yet another project, the pilot project “Lived experience of rehabilitation after Covid-19: An intersectional perspective”, colleagues and I study patients’, relatives’ and healthcare professionals’ experiences and subjective meaning-making of rehabilitation and long-term health challenges after hospital care for Covid-19.

Previous research of mine has explored ethical, philosophical, and socio-cultural issues related to genetic testing, intersexuality, organ donation, egg donation, surrogate motherhood, aging/dementia, and different cultural and religious conceptions of death. In previous research, I have also examined the role of the patient and close others (relatives or friends) in healthcare, and conditions for global bioethics. To give some examples, I have been the PI of projects that have examined enacted norms about parenthood in medicine, parents’ experiences of donating a kidney to their child, and how norms about sexed embodiment can be expressed and enacted within specific medical practices. I looked at how these can help to shape decisions about genital surgery when a child is born with intersex anatomy. My research has also examined how experiences of pain and suffering can inform and form our ways of engaging with others and the world and our self-understanding. Further, I have worked with conceptions of disease and with the role of embodiment in relational autonomy conceptions. The research projects have been funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR), Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ Pro Futura), the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (FORTE), the Dutch Research Council (NWO), and the Swedish Foundation for Internationalisation Collaboration in Research and Higher Education (STINT).

Teaching and Supervision

My teaching experience includes courses at undergraduate, master’s, and postgraduate levels within the areas of biomedical ethics, ethics, bioethics, gender studies and health, theoretical perspectives of humanistic and social science health research, and qualitative and philosophical methodology. I often teach on courses that have an interdisciplinary structure where issues or phenomena are studied from a variety of perspectives.

Most of the master’s students and PhD candidates whom I have supervised or am supervising have been working or are working in the area of medical humanities and/or bioethics. Are you a master’s student or PhD candidate interested in medical humanities or bioethics? Feel free to contact me for more information about activities at LiU in these areas.

Internationalisation and collaboration

I have a passion for international aspects of research and teaching. I have spent several periods as guest researcher abroad, including one year as Pro Futura Fellow at Cambridge University, UK, (2014/2015) as part of a five-year Pro Futura Scientia Fellowship at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, a post doc and internship at the World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, (2005), and one year as guest researcher at Cardiff University, UK (2000/2001).

Collaborations take place within and beyond research projects, in a rich variety of ways. The Centre for Medical Humanities and Bioethics places a strong emphasis on this work. Are you interested in collaboration with the centre? If so, you are very welcome to contact me or others involved.

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