Altruism and Suffering in the Context of Cancer

Madeline Li and Gary Rodin

in Pathological Altruism

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738571
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918669 | DOI:
Altruism and Suffering in the Context of Cancer

Show Summary Details


Altruism is most often defined as unselfish concern for others. This can be considered pathological when it is judged to be excessive and self-damaging, although such judgments are inevitably arbitrary and value-laden. They are particularly difficult to apply to individuals who provide caregiving to intimate family members who are in states of extraordinary human suffering and need. This is of great relevance in the context of cancer because of the profound relational needs and burden of care that are produced by the illness. No norms exist for the boundaries of “appropriate” provision of care in such a circumstance. Further, current views of the relational self highlight the inextricably intertwined motivations of self-interest and altruism. A new terminology, which discards assumptions about psychopathology or about the distinction between self-interest and the interests of others may be required to describe problematic caregiving in the context of an illness such as cancer.

Keywords: pathological altruism; cancer; relational; human suffering; burden of care; problematic caregiving; norms; self-interest

Chapter.  8840 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.