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Open Access Research

The disease-subject as a subject of literature

Andrea R Kottow12 and Michael H Kottow3*

Author Affiliations

1 Universitat zu Köln, Philosophische Fakultät, Romanisches Seminar, Albertus-Magnus-Platz, 50923, Köln

2 Universidad Diego Portales, Instituto de Humanidades, Vergara 210, Santiago, Chile

3 Escuela de Salud Pública, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Chile, Independencia 939, Santiago, Chile

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Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2007, 2:10  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-2-10

Published: 29 June 2007


Based on the distinction between living body and lived body, we describe the disease-subject as representing the impact of disease on the existential life-project of the subject. Traditionally, an individual's subjectivity experiences disorders of the body and describes ensuing pain, discomfort and unpleasantness. The idea of a disease-subject goes further, representing the lived body suffering existential disruption and the possible limitations that disease most probably will impose. In this limit situation, the disease-subject will have to elaborate a new life-story, a new character or way-of-being-in-the-world, it will become a different subject.

Health care professionals need to realize that patients are not mere observers of their body, for they are immersed in a reassesment of values, relationships, priorities, perhaps even life-plans. Becoming acquainted with literature's capacity to create characters, modify narratives and depict life-stories in crisis, might sharpen physicians' hermeneutic acumen and make them more receptive to the quandaries of disease-subjects facing major medical and existential decisions in the wake of disruptive disease.