On 21st July, the Academic Council at MU-Varna appointed Veselina Hristova Slavova, PhD, to take the academic position of Associate Professor in the scientific specialty Ethics. At present Assoc. Prof. Slavova teaches the subject of Medical Ethics and Deontology to all majors at the Medical College at MU-Varna. She is a graduate of "Frederic Joliot-Curie" French Language School in Varna, and in 1997 Assoc. Prof. Slavova graduated in Philosophy from Sofia University "Sv. Kliment Ohridski". In 2009 she defended a doctoral thesis, entitled "Phenomenological Discourse on the Body in Philosophical Anthropology", at the Department of Philosophy of Sofia University "Sv. Kliment Ohridski". Her interests are focused on the field of contemporary French philosophy (in particular - the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas), Ethics and Bioethics.
We are going to talk with Assoc. Prof. Slavova about the topic of her monograph "Ethics as Philosophy of Responsibility. Study on the Concepts of Emmanuel Levinas".
Assoc. Prof. Slavova, what kind of responsibility do you mean?
The concept of responsibility is multifaceted. However, the way Levinas elaborates on it differs from the classical concepts of responsibility as an obligation to the others, as an agreement between me and them. The thesis of responsibility as the basis of human existence has provoked me to apply it as a foundation of our ethical relationship with the other person. In this respect, I am responsible not because I am obliged to, but because I am convinced that responsibility is my essence, that it gives me the approach to the others.
The main idea is that we become ourselves, we identify ourselves as individuals, only when we put ourselves in other person's shoes, when he/she is present in front of us, as a person, when we accept that he/she is completely different from us, and we do not impose our own ideas on him/her.
Sartre said, "Hell is other people". I understand that Levinas claims exactly the opposite according to your words.
Yes, that's right. Levinas gets into an argument exactly with Sartre and says that in fact, thanks to the other person I become myself. He is not a threat to me. On the contrary, he is the one who lifts me up, who elevates me, who makes me myself.
Following this train of thoughts, what do you think is the most common mistake that we make in our relationships with the others? Perhaps, the fact that we are trying to change them…
That's right - by not letting them be themselves: when I imagine something about the other person, and it becomes my intention, which I apply in them as a reflection. For example, I expect from you to be someone you are not, I want to see in you what you are not, I require of you something that you are not obliged to do, and you do not want to do it, or you cannot do it at all.
And to what extent the concept of responsibility for the other one is related to our ability to put ourselves in the other person's shoes?
Levinas has exactly the same term - to put yourself in the place of another, this is the way to identify yourself with yourself. This is his underlying idea. He opposes Husserl's concept of the "Transcendental Person", who perceives the other one by analogy with himself – that's exactly what we have just discussed - trying to turn the other one into something like me. The essence of the other person consists in the fact that he is different from me. If we assume that, we will overcome "the allergic" attitude to the other person.
It should be specified that responsibility is demonstrated not only for our nearest and dearest. Levinas speaks of responsibility for the others in general - we should have respect for the other one, even if that other is our antipode. Actually, the fate of Jewish people and Levinas' belonging to these people gave rise to the majority of his concepts. Levinas tries to criticize the national-socialist ideas. Nevertheless, he does not instil hatred with his philosophy. On the contrary, through his philosophical concepts he seeks to overcome the obliteration of the difference.
You are a lecturer in Medical Ethics. Let's look at the views of Levinas on responsibility for the other person within the doctor-patient relationship. Often, when we communicate with others, we feel a certain dose of empathy and we demonstrate conformity. This putting ourselves in the shoes of another person, however, wouldn't it be a threat to the professionalism of a doctor? Emotions in Medicine are not a good advisor. Imagine a surgeon who has to perform a surgery on a very close relative.
To put ourselves in the place of another person does not mean entirely to be in his skin and to become him by losing ourselves. The point is to be ourselves and to try to understand what the other one may feel, what could be bothering him - as far as we can. The important point is to be willing to achieve this other person in some way, to be open to him and not to approach him as if he is an object that stands in front of us like a mechanism that should be "fixed". The doctor cannot take the role of a patient, but he has to accept each person with his/her own individuality.
In your publications you define the terms "disease" and "health" and their relation to formation of the identity. You argue that health and disease are not a problem of the individual, but a part of the social relationships. You believe that if things were perceived in this way by the majority of people, by the society, it would lead to a change in the attitude to the patient and he/she would not be disadvantaged. But why health and disease should be a problem of social relationships rather than of the individual person?
Disease somehow puts these people in isolation. They are somehow rejected by the society and then this becomes a social problem. We are a part of the society and once when we were healthy, active, effective, self-sufficient and again identifying ourselves with ourselves, we had been useful to the society. At some point, however, when we are sick, and we try to gain ground somehow even before this society, our failure to achieve this makes us people in the periphery. And this is no longer just a personal problem. The society must be committed to this issue, because a person cannot prove himself to himself. He proves himself to others, as well. Of course, we should not assume the society as a faceless entity, to which we confront the individual. Social relationships are interpersonal relationships; when we say that disease and health are a problem of the individual, this means they are a problem of the society, as well.
Euthanasia as an active impact, causing the death of another person, was permitted in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2002. It has been permitted by the law of Luxembourg since 2009. Assisted suicide can be performed legally under the laws of Switzerland and in the states of Oregon, Montana and Washington. What is your opinion on this controversial medical and moral-ethical issue?
This is an issue that should be solved by specialists - philosophers, doctors, theologians, psychologists, lawyers - and after a broad public discussion. I cannot give an opinion pro or cons euthanasia, because, firstly, I think that Bulgarian society is not mature enough to take such a step. I think that if the legislation at the moment rejects euthanasia, what we really need to do is to offer alternatives. It is imperative to provide such alternatives - if we reject euthanasia, and we have arguments confirming this position, then we must render help to patients and their relatives, or hospices, where there is specialized care, not only medical but also care related to the preparation for the death (priests who communicate with believers or psychologists who assist these people). Anyway, this is a global issue, not just ours.
An interview of D. Velcheva