When hope makes us vulnerable: a discussion of patient-healthcare provider interactions in the context of hope

Bioethics. 2004 Sep;18(5):428-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2004.00408.x.


When hope is discussed in bioethics' literature, it is most often in the context of 'false hopes' and/or how to maintain hope while breaking bad news to patients. Little or no time is generally devoted to the description of hope that supports these analyses. In this paper, I present a detailed description of hope, one designed primarily for the healthcare context. Noting that hope is an emotional attitude, four key aspects are explored. In particular, the function of imagination in hope is discussed in depth. Through an examination of the relationship between hope and vulnerability, I demonstrate how adequately describing hope can broaden the normative inquiry into the role of hope in healthcare. Three ways in which persons with hope can be vulnerable are illustrated, and the challenge of how healthcare providers can attend in moral ways to the hopes of patients is identified.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Disabled Persons / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Empathy
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Morals*
  • Paternalism / ethics
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Prognosis
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics
  • Uncertainty
  • Vulnerable Populations