The impact of twenty-first century personalized medicine versus twenty-first century medicine's impact on personalization

Camille Abettan*, Jos V M Welie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Over the past decade, the exponential growth of the literature devoted to personalized medicine has been paralleled by an ever louder chorus of epistemic and ethical criticisms. Their differences notwithstanding, both advocates and critics share an outdated philosophical understanding of the concept of personhood and hence tend to assume too simplistic an understanding of personalization in health care.

METHODS: In this article, we question this philosophical understanding of personhood and personalization, as these concepts shape the field of personalized medicine. We establish a dialogue with phenomenology and hermeneutics (especially with E. Husserl, M. Merleau-Ponty and P. Ricoeur) in order to achieve a more sophisticated understanding of the meaning of these concepts We particularly focus on the relationship between personal subjectivity and objective data.

RESULTS: We first explore the gap between the ideal of personalized healthcare and the reality of today's personalized medicine. We show that the nearly exclusive focus of personalized medicine on the objective part of personhood leads to a flawed ethical debate that needs to be reframed. Second, we seek to contribute to this reframing by drawing on the phenomenological-hermeneutical movement in philosophy. Third, we show that these admittedly theoretical analyses open up new conceptual possibilities to tackle the very practical ethical challenges that personalized medicine faces.

CONCLUSION: Finally, we propose a reversal: if personalization is a continuous process by which the person reappropriates all manner of objective data, giving them meaning and thereby shaping his or her own way of being human, then personalized medicine, rather than being personalized itself, can facilitate personalization of those it serves through the data it provides.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2020


  • Personalized medicine
  • Husserl
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Ricoeur
  • Subjectivity


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