Empathy in Policy

This course helped us establish the fact that ethics (or values) have some relation to empathy. I am interested in public policy, especially global health policy. This research project will look at how policy, ethics, and empathy all relate. In most cases, multi governmental organizations have to come up with policies that will largely benefit the majority of their targeted population, or the most vulnerable populations (those who are at a higher risk of whatever disease they are trying to combat). This is viewed as the “right” thing to do. However, policy is not that easy to formulate because of all the different people at stake. For instance, policy depends on the available resources which affect the “right” thing. Like we have seen in the course, context influences empathy as well as ethics. Another aspect to note in this is topic is the fact that it is easier to empathize with an individual than a large group. Like we spoke about in the course hearing that thousands of people are injured from an earthquake is less effective in invoking empathy than looking into one person’s story. So do policymakers have the capacity to empathize with these large populations they are trying to aid? Or are they just getting the job done? Would empathy actually make policies more effective, if we assume that there is little to not empathy in policy making?

The driving question for this research project is, How beneficial is empathy in public policy?

Most policy makers use the statement “economic policy is healthy policy”. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the numbers dictate health policy. In addition to this, policy makers are not directly affected by the policy, especially in the global health industry. The individuals who hold the power are the ones who have the money, much like history is written by the victors. What makes this topic important is the fact that more often than not policies are not effective. Take for instance the combat against HIV, policymakers still haven’t found an effect policy to fight HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa. I think this could be because of the lack of empathy on the part of the “super powers”. Without an understanding of the environment, there is no way one can impose effective strategies. My critical question invokes the type of thinking that could make a difference where it actually matters. Maybe we need to change our approach when making policy.

Potential Sources

Boisjoly Johanne, et al. “Empathy or Antipathy? : The Impact of Diversity”. The American Economic Review, vol. 96, no. 5, 2006., pp. 1890-1905doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/aer.96.5.1890.

Bruns, F., & Frewer, A. (2011). Ethics consultation and empathy. HEC Forum,23(4), 247-255. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10730-011-9164-7

Natalia V. Czap et al. ‘Walk in my Shoes : Nudging for Empathy Conservation.’ Walk in My Shoes: Nudging for Empathy Conservation. N.p., Oct.-Nov 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

Petrini, Carlo. “Ethics-Based Public Health Policy?” American Journal of Public Health. American Public Association, 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2016

Stuckler, D., & McKee, M. (2008). Five metaphors about global-health policy. The Lancet, 372(9633), 95-7. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/199012988?accountid=13567

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