Responsibilization of Aging? Socio-Empirical Findings and Bioethical Exploration

3 Oct 2012
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Mark Schweda
Visiting Scholar, Science, Technology, and Society Center

Later life has become a projection screen for individual decisions, plans and
actions in the horizon of novel medical options: Anti-aging, preventive
medicine, predictive genetic testing and neuroimaging, but also advance
directives and other legal provisions for end-of-life-situations, stimulate
the design and evaluation of future scenarios, the calculation of chances and
risks, and the development of life plans and strategies for old age. With
reference to Michel Foucault and Nikolas Rose, some sociologists describe
this process as symptomatic for the rise of a new paradigm of biopolitical
power and social control: The “responsibilization” of personal life and
health in an era of neoliberal self-governance. From an ethical point of
view, the moral concerns expressed in this diagnosis are important, but
require explication and critical reflection in normative terms. Starting from
the sociological critique, I will explore the ethical implications of the
idea of responsibility for aging, its conceptual contents, and the necessary
preconditions of its appropriate use. Against this background, first results
from a series of focus groups on anti-aging medicine and advance directives
in Germany are examined. An explorative analysis indicates that many claims
about responsibility for later life are ethically problematic insofar as they
tend to focus on individual responsibilities, thus making problematic
assumptions about individual possibilities of influencing the processes of
ageing and dying, while at the same time systematically blinding out the
roles of other agents such as medical professionals, the healthcare system or
the state, in shaping the way we grow old today. Although discussing
responsibilities for later life is not problematic per se, we need to develop
clear and valid criteria in order to decide in how far the ascription of
prospective responsibilities for future health, aging and dying is justified
or not in concrete cases. Only this way, oversimplified or inappropriate
accusations can be rejected and legitimate claims be recognized and

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