In a recent article, Jeffrey P. Bishop addresses the biopsychosociospiritual approach to medicine that has gained popularity in the past few decades as a way to correct the reductionism and scientism of biomedical ethics and “personalize” the colder aspects of scientifically and technologically advanced biomedicine. Although he welcomes the attempt to bring religion and spirituality back to contemporary medical discourse and practice, Bishop is quite critical of the “the total care approach” entailed in bio-psycho-socio-spirituality. For him, what is labeled “religious” or “spiritual” is nothing more than a kind of liberal or humanist discourse operating within the framework of secularized medical control via its various metanarratives of social functioning. Bishop’s challenge is significant because it remains open to question how in biomedical ethics we should acknowledge the distinct roles played by different religions and spiritual traditions in biomedical decisions, which very often go beyond the social and technological dimensions of biomedicine.
Bishop’s contextualization of Western biomedicine is also useful for helping Chinese bioethicists to understand that any attempt to reconstruct Chinese bioethics will go nowhere if we confine ourselves to concepts that address particular issues in particular contexts in the history of Western medicine. For example, for traditional Chinese medicine and medical practice, the challenge may not be too much depersonalization or too much scientism, but rather how to depersonalize or become more scientific in certain situations. Therefore, Bishop is correct when he points out that rather than embracing Western biomedicine, or biopsychosociospiritual medicine, China should turn to its own spiritual traditions borne out of the life-worlds of its people to fully understand its potential and limits.