Altruism and Suffering in the Context of Cancer
Implications of a Relational Paradigm
Altruism is most often defined as unselfish concern for others. This can be considered pathological when it is judged to be excessive and self-damaging, although such judgments are inevitably arbitrary and value-laden. They are particularly difficult to apply to individuals who provide caregiving to intimate family members who are in states of extraordinary human suffering and need. This is of great relevance in the context of cancer because of the profound relational needs and burden of care that are produced by the illness. No norms exist for the boundaries of “appropriate” provision of care in such a circumstance. Further, current views of the relational self highlight the inextricably intertwined motivations of self-interest and altruism. A new terminology, which discards assumptions about psychopathology or about the distinction between self-interest and the interests of others may be required to describe problematic caregiving in the context of an illness such as cancer.
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