Compassionate Respect: A Feminist Approach to Medical Ethics and Other Questions

Farley, Margaret

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Jan-19-2004


This treatise is part of the Madeleva Lecture Series in Spirituality, an annual presentation sponsored by the Center for Spirituality, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana. Margaret Farley's lecture begins with a brief introduction to the successes and failures of the global response to AIDS and HIV both worldwide and in Africa. Her aim is to demonstrate that "compassion needs to be normatively shaped, both as an attitude and as the generator of actions," and that the form compassion and help take must be directed in part by the "real needs" of the individuals involved.

What follows in this brief book is an excellent review of traditional and feminist ethics, from the moral concepts of "individual autonomy," "nonmaleficence," "beneficence," and "distributive justice" to Carol Gilligan's "ethic of care." Farley looks at these and other ethical precepts with a keen eye, and then proposes a blended moral response she calls compassionate respect. Her intelligent, focused discussion of what compassionate respect might encompass includes a look at the role of compassion within various religions and how caregivers might modulate giving, mercy, and love into compassion and care.


This book serves as an excellent introduction to medical ethics for those, like me, who are not academics or well versed in the history of medical ethical theories or how their popularity has waxed and waned over the years. But above all, her book is a call to "genuinely behold" suffering, then to work to "alleviate it, ameliorate it, prevent it in others." If we cannot do these things, Farley says, then we must "bear with" the sufferer, in love and respect," an idea that all caregivers might embrace. This book might be slipped into a medical student or nursing student's lab coat pocket and, if read well, might influence the actions of the caregiver that student will become.


Farley is Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics, Yale Divinity School and Yale University Graduate School.


Paulist Press

Place Published

New York & Mahwah, N.J.



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