Literature and ethical medicine: Five cases from common practice

Rita Charon, Howard Brody, Mary Williams Clark, Dwight Davis, Richard Martinez, Robert M. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


This essay is composed of five stories written by practicing physicians about their patients. Each clinical story describes a challenging ethical condition-potential abuse of medical power, gravely ill and probably over-treated newborns, iatrogenic narcotic addiction, deceived dying people. Rather than singling out one ethical conflict to resolve or adjudicate, the authors attempt, through literary methods, to grasp the singular experiences of their patients and to act according to the deep structures of their patients' lives. Examining these five stories with simple literary tools-attention to narrative frames, time, plot, and desire-reveals the mechanisms through which acts of writing and reading contribute to clinical clarity and ethical actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-265
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Literature
  • Narrative ethics
  • Reading
  • Writing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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