Moral prisms: ethics and the older person


  • Martha Beller Holstein


Bioethical discourse, as it relates to common experiences of older people, has tended to focus on conflictive issues as they arise in long-term care. The primary value that this discourse upholds is autonomy, understood as self-direction, and the method of analysis is generally principle- and rule- based. Many good changes in long-term care have come as the result of these efforts.

But much of ethical importance is left out, limited by how this form of discourse defines and addresses problems. This paper explores a more expansive view of ethics that attends to context and the particular features of being an older person in often- inhospitable settings, takes embodiment as  a key feature in our moral lives, and situates individuals in important relationships. Using narratives familiar to those who work with older people, especially in clinical settings, this paper will also suggest ways to reconfigure the familiar subject matter of bioethics and long-term care. It will challenge the dominance of existing values and so leave new spaces for ethical action. By bringing in culture, embodiment, and elder subjectivity, it will begin to move from the bioethics of long-term care to a concept of ethics and the older person.


Ethics, aging, embodiment, Bioethics and long–term care.

Author Biography

Martha Beller Holstein

Ph. D. Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health,
Faith, and Ethics.