Phenomenology of Bodily Integrity in Disfiguring Breast Cancer


  • Jenny Slatman


In this paper, I explore the meaning of bodily integrity in disfiguring breast cancer. Bodily integrity is a normative principle precisely because it does not simply refer to actual physical or functional intactness. It rather indicates what should be regarded and respected as inviolable in vulnerable and damageable bodies. I will argue that this normative inviolability or wholeness can be based upon a person's embodied experience of wholeness. This phenomenological stance differs from the liberal view that identifies respect for integrity with respect for autonomy (resulting in an invalidation of bodily integrity's proper normative meaning), as well as from the view that bodily integrity is based upon ideologies of wholeness (which runs the risk of being disadvantageous to women). I propose that bodily integrity involves a process of identification between the experience of one's body as “Leib” and the experience of one's body as “Körper.” If identification fails or is not possible, one's integrity is threatened. This idea of bodily integrity can support breast cancer patients and survivors in making decisions about possible corrective interventions. To implement this idea in oncology care, empirical-phenomenological research needs to establish how breast cancer patients express their embodied self-experiences.