Staying Human in Hospitals

The project “Ethics in the Daily Routine of Hospitals” analysed three major subject areas concerned with the daily routine of doctors, nurses, patients and people they are affiliated with.  The first subject area focused on all the fundamental actions that are an inherent part of being a human being. This includes, for instance, eating, sleeping, excretion, physical activities and communication. Many patients find themselves in a vulnerable position and rely upon support, even in the performance of private and intimate actions. In practice, this often results in a violation of the private sphere and is perceived as humiliating and degrading.

The second topical focus centred on the matters of space and time in hospitals. Many workflows are shaped by rules and standardisations. The patient’s scope of action is confined and their abilities to co-determine their fate are limited. The people working at the hospital perceive time as a scarce resource. They usually experience an enormous pressure to perform, places of retreat are rare and, accordingly, the general conditions do not support ethical actions the workers have reflected upon.

The third subject area regarded the relations that occur in the setting of a hospital. It revealed the weak position of patients, when compared to the hospital’s employees. Fears and insecurities, pain and suffering, as well as differences in knowledge, abilities and powers result in asymmetrical relations.

The study is based on a comprehensive analysis of the reference literature as well as interviews with experts and hospital employees from Salzburg.

Clemens Sedmak has used the gained insights for his book “Mensch sein im Krankenhaus: Zwischen Alltag und Ausnahmesituation” (Staying Human in Hospital: Caught Between the Daily Grind and Exceptional Circumstances). In the book, Sedmak develops basic features of an ethical approach to the daily routine of hospitals. The book was published in 2013 by Styria Verlag.