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Keywords:

  • dialogical ethics;
  • empirical ethics;
  • participatory research;
  • responsibility practices;
  • elderly care;
  • practice improvement;
  • practical wisdom

ABSTRACT

Since its origin bioethics has been a specialized, academic discipline, focussing on moral issues, using a vast set of globalized principles and rational techniques to evaluate and guide healthcare practices. With the emergence of a plural society, the loss of faith in experts and authorities and the decline of overarching grand narratives and shared moralities, a new approach to bioethics is needed. This approach implies a shift from an external critique of practices towards embedded ethics and interactive practice improvement, and from a legal defence of rights towards fostering interdependent practices of responsibility. This article describes these transitions within bioethics in relation to the broader societal and cultural dynamics within Western societies, and traces the implications for the methodologies and changing roles of the bioethicist. The bioethicist we foresee is not just a clever expert but also a relationally sensitive person who engages stakeholders in reciprocal dialogues about their practice of responsibility and helps to integrate various sorts of knowledge (embodied, experiential, visual, and cognitive-scientific). In order to illustrate this new approach, we present a case study. It concerns a project focusing on an innovation in elderly care, based on the participation of various stakeholders, especially older people themselves.