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Eyewitness in Erewhon academic hospital
  1. I de Beaufort,
  2. F Meulenberg
  1. Erasmus MC/University Medical Center, Department of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Inez de Beaufort, Professor of Health Care Ethics, Erasmus MC/University Medical Center, Department of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine, PO Box 2040, 3000 CA Rotterdam, The Netherlands; i.debeaufort{at}

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Part 7: Special topics in calamity ethics

That guy treats objects like women, man. (From The Big Lebowski)

It's an unusual sight: a hospital department full of police officers, all with stern looks. Expertly and seemingly effortless they take over the direction. The room of poor Claire is closed with a yellow tape; one officer is assigned the role of attendant.



The news flutters over the department, going from mouth to mouth. Ambulatory patients, driven by unhealthy curiosity, hurry to the scene of the calamity. Last in line is obese Mrs Robinson, scuffing her pink slippers adorned with a Minnie Mouse motif. Bedridden patients wait, grinding their teeth, for the news that their ambulatory colleagues bring. A dying patient decides to postpone dying for a little while, awaiting further news.

In the Nuttree Pavilion the discussants have no eye for current affairs. As philosophers they are trained to know that what is topical now is history tomorrow. No, the two eminent ethicists discuss the future. Do they envisage the panoramic perspectives of imaginable future dilemmas? Prepare for scenarios most of which will never become reality whereas the ones they didn't envisage might happen? Are they involved in edifying thought experiments like trapeze artists swinging in the peak of circus-thinking? Not today. Even ethicists of the stature of Sven Kremer and Gordon McIntyre have human, sometimes banal, traits. Sven opens the dialogue with a simple question: “Are we going to Singapore to the conference of the International Association of Bioethics?”

“Of course, I've never been to Singapore.”

“Convincing argument! We'll have to present papers, otherwise there will be no funding.”

“Of course we'll present papers.” McIntyre just loves the words ‘of course’. Sven is more an off-course person.

“On what?” Kremer asks, then, answering himself, “I was thinking maybe my recent work on a revised …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

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