Bioethics Meets Families in The Netherlands this Summer
Jamie Nelson

EDITOR’S NOTE: IJFAB Blog is pleased to have Jamie L. Nelson, of IJFAB’s editorial team and Michigan State University, join us as a regular contributor. Her work has been linked from the blog previously in this entry on Bathrooms, Binaries, and Bioethics. She is the author of many books and articles in bioethics and has shaped IJFAB from the beginning.  We look forward to Jamie’s further contributions to the blog, as well.

People who are ill very often have other people significantly involved in their lives; health care practice and policy have often turned to such people—typically denominated as “family”—to supply information about a patient’s treatment goals or general values, and to perform a steadily expanding array of ever more exacting caregiving. At the same time, medicine has offered those who want to start or expand their families a bewildering set of interventions, which have arguably not only changed who gets to have families, but what families mean, and what it means to forgo reproducing. All of these ways in which medicine and families interact tend to have different, and more burdensome implications for women than for men.

For many years, the burdens and impacts on families of contemporary medical practices and policies have been too little explored in bioethics, despite persistent efforts of some workers in the field. A significant example is the work of an, international research network that has been addressing the nature of the responsibilities that families are assigned (or denied) in health and social care more broadly for several years.

Spearheaded by Marian Verkerk, Professor of the Ethics of Care at the University Medical Center at Groningen, and supported by a grant from the Dutch government, the consortium has published a jointly authored paper (“Where Families and Health Care Meet,” J Med Ethics 2015;41:183-185 doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101783), and has a collection of essays forthcoming from Oxford University Press, edited by Verkerk, Hilde Lindemann, and the University of Newcastle-based sociologist and political theorist Janice McLaughlin. Marian also maintains an active blog on behalf of the consortium “Family is Not About Blood.” Much of the work of the network proceeds from explicitly feminist premises; virtually all of it engages with themes, problems, and literatures of interest to feminist scholars generally, and feminist bioethicists in particular.

An image of one of the many lovely canals in Groningen still used for boat traffic. In the distance is one of the many lovely steeples that rise above the classic Dutch architecture. IMAGE CREDIT:

This next August, from the 21st to the 26th, network members will conduct What About the Family?, a one-week workshop on ethical issues affecting families in health and social care, in the Dutch university town of Groningen. The workshop is primarily intended for graduate students and early career researcher in bioethics, the medical humanities, critical family studies and cognate fields. As a “European Summerschool,” one of a number of programs run throughout Europe annually, and which allow post grads and scholars early in their careers to work with experienced figures in their areas of interest drawn from across the continent and the world. As career development opportunities, this program deserves to be better known outside Europe—and for many readers of this blog in particular, What About the Family? should be very pertinent to their research foci.

In addition to Marian, Hilde, Jackie Leach Scully, and I–all members of IJFAB’s current editorial collective–will be among the faculty this August in Groningen, Details can be found at:


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