Ethics in Narrative Health Interventions

Document Type


Publication Date



The thrust of narrative medicine is that patients and communities construct stories that guide their lives and give meaning to both health and illness. The responsibility of health care practitioners, therefore, is to learn how to read these local narratives to provide care that is relevant to an individual or community. Given the recognition that interaction must be tailored to the subjective experiences of patients and their communities, can there be universal ethical standards in the treatment of illness? We argue that the constructed nature of patient experiences does not pose a threat to making ethical clinical judgments. The solution to this dilemma requires that the traditional distinction between objectivity and subjectivity be eschewed by clinicians in favor of establishing dialogue with patients. Narratives are never created alone and are therefore not esoteric. Listening carefully to patients' stories is an ethical practice that can be fostered in health care settings. Subjectivity can be embraced by clinicians without jeopardizing ethical or evidence-based patient care.