Medical humanities and medical alterity in fiction and in life

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A widely accepted component of any answer to the question ‘What is it to do good medical ethics?’ is the commitment to benefit people's health, in principlist terminology, ‘beneficence’. This paper addresses deliberate maleficence and the cultural otherness with which it is associated, focusing on the activities of the serial killer Dr Harold Shipman. It finds an uncanny ‘fit’ between the normal operation of healthcare services and this sort of alterity which has attracted little attention from bioethicists but has been addressed by novelists. To the extent that the medical humanities offers useful insights into hard moral problems, its capacities rest on taking account of both the fictional and the real.

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