Quality of life in the contemporary politics of healthcare: … but what is a life?

‘Quality of life’ (QoL) is a ubiquitous phrase in medicine. There is considerable literature on the meaning of ‘quality’ in ‘quality of life’, but little on the meaning of ‘life’. And yet, rooted in measurements of QoL, is a conceptualization of ‘a life’ used to judge ‘quality’.

In this article I focus on ‘life’ within institutional healthcare, arguing that for patients who are considered elderly, their life is defined against functionality.

I use an autoethnographic method to enter this conversation, underlining the disjuncture between patients’ understanding of ‘a life’, and that of healthcare professionals. I draw on the writings of the Italian philosopher Georgio Agamben to interrogate ‘life’, shifting the conversation of QoL from one of measurement and administration to one of political order. I discuss both the formal, evidence-based tools and the nature of their application. I conclude by arguing that QoL tools and their application, produce a particular kind of life, and that what is at stake in the invocation of ‘quality of life’ in health care is our very experience of aging and our embodiment.

– Catherine R. Phillips

Read the full journal article here.