The moral demands of long-terms caregiving in an aging population

Wai Lam William SIN

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


The thesis of the demandingness limitation states that if the demands of a moral theory are extremely burdensome, the theory may be objectionable. Discussions of this thesis predominantly fall under the area of general benevolence. Philosophers are seldom concerned about the severe moral demands between agents and their close associates. In this paper, I will study the demands of morality in regard to special benevolence. I ask the question: When an agent’s parent suffers from chronic illness and cannot take care of themselves, how far will the agent be responsible for looking after him (or providing him with other means of assistance)? There is reason to discuss the demandingness limitation in regard to long-term caregiving. Recent demographic development in the world shows that the trend of population aging is unprecedented in human history: The percentage of old people aged 60 and over has been projected to be more than double worldwide over the next half century. At present, in the United States, most of the elderly are given care by family in a domestic context. Eighty percent of them have one or more chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and dementia, etc. Should agents sacrifice greatly to take care of their sick and frail parents? There is a spectrum of views on the stringency of filial duty. On one end of the spectrum, the moral minimalists, like A. J. Simmons and M. Slote, hold that filial duty is either oppressive or parochial. On the other end, traditional Confucians believe that adult children have a strong obligation to reciprocate. Generally speaking, in recent philosophical literature philosophers do not deny that adult children owe a moderate duty of gratitude to their parents. However, regarding the situation that family caregivers are facing in real life, extreme demands tend to arise from it. Caregivers perform a number of trivial and beneficial actions, such as lifting, feeding, bathing, and getting in and out of bed. On the face of it, the performance of each of these actions demands only trivial sacrifices; in the long run, however, as the situation of such “easy reliefs” arises indefinitely, the demands will become burdensome. I believe that the demandingness limitation can apply to the case of long-term caregiving. Although there is a special connections between the agent and the patient, I shall argue that the agent is not subject to a limitless obligation to assist the patient. Love, in this case, is compatible with the agent’s deliberate termination, or suspension, of assistance for the needy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2011


Sin, W. (2011, June). The moral demands of long-terms caregiving in an aging population. Paper Presented at the 11th Conference of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies, Lucca, Italy.


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