This evening I read a chapter from Gilbert Meilaender’s book, Bioethics and the Character of Human Life: Essays and Reflections.
Here is one paragraph that particularly captured my attention:
Thus, although compassion surely moves us to try to relieve suffering, there are things we ought not to do even for that worthy end–actions that would not honour or respect our shared human condition. One of the terrible truths that governs the shape of our lives is that somethings there is suffering we are unable–within the limits of morality–entirely to relieve. Hence, the maxim that must govern and shape our compassion should be “maximize care,” which may not always be quite the same as “minimize suffering.”
This is a beneficial juxtaposition because we can see that there really are moral limits to “minimizing suffering” such that this cannot reasonably be our ultimate goal with a view toward the good of the person. By contrast, putting the emphasis on “maximizing care” clearly has the good of the person in view.
Minimizing suffering can indeed be a key dimension to maximizing care. Yet, we have reason to be suspect whenever minimizing suffering also minimizes our need to care for someone.
Whenever we decide that we will not let suffering cost us anything much, then we are on the path to cruelty, not care. A person’s suffering always demands more of us, not less.
Photo: My mom visiting her sister’s mother-in-law Terry shortly before Terry’s death