Charlotte Duffee


PhD Student, University of Toronto

I am a PhD candidate in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Toronto with a specialization in bioethics from the Joint Centre for Bioethics. I study the history and philosophy of suffering in 20th-century American medicine, focusing on the following three areas:

History of Suffering in 20th-Century American Medicine

My historical research charts the emergence of a contemporary medical discourse about suffering, which most scholars say started in American bioethics during the 1980s. My work, however, takes a longer historical view, tracking concerns about suffering that coincided with the rapid growth of the modern American hospital in the first quarter of the 20th century. I focus on a physician who witnessed this growth, Boston doctor Richard C. Cabot, who proposed models of medicine that I claim were attentive to suffering. Looking at his case records, published texts, and archival materials, I track Cabot's ideas about suffering and situate them within the legacies of his success and failures down the century.

Philosophical Implications of My Historical Findings

My philosophical studies use my historical findings to frame current theoretical debates about suffering. The origin story about suffering that begins in the 1980s has steered medical policies and bioethical responses to suffering, sometimes foreclosing important details about the debates that a richer historical context affords. I work to recuperate these lost details and explore their implications for bioethical issues that feature suffering.

Bioethical Philosophies of Suffering More Broadly

Apart from my historical research, I have other philosophical interests in suffering which include the following: distinctions between pain and suffering; discrepancies between pain science and bioethical theories of suffering; the satisfactoriness of these theories; and whether suffering from disease and injury can be noble.


BA: Philosophy

University of Toronto

MA: Philosophy

The New School

MA: Bioethics

New York University