Cervical screening, compliance and moral obligation

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Abstract

Cervical screening has been subject to extensive scrutiny within the social sciences over the last two decades. Moreover, it has been described, in passing, as an example of ‘surveillance medicine’ through which new aspects of people’s lives are brought under medical scrutiny. Cervical screening is an example of secondary prevention with which women, on the whole, are expected and encouraged to comply, in what are deemed to be their best interests. However, the social science literature on cervical screening tends to present compliance as a morally neutral and unproblematic response to information about disease prevention. In contrast, this paper seeks to illustrate how women draw on specific contexts and relationships through which participation in, or compliance with screening, is given meaning. Drawing on women’s accounts of their experience of screening participation, the paper suggests that compliance with cervical screening cannot be viewed exclusively as a morally neutral, if desirable, outcome of disease prevention initiatives, but may also be embedded within a moral framework of self-responsibility and social obligation.

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