Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2013


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Health Care Ethics


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Gerard Magill

Committee Member

Henk ten Have

Committee Member

Lisa Parker


Ethics, Feminism, Obesity, Stigma, Treatment, Weight loss surgery


This dissertation provides an ethical justification of surgical weight loss interventions for the treatment of obesity. Situating obesity as not merely a public health concern but also fundamentally a problem of clinical medicine confronting individual patients and physicians, the dissertation argues that the time frame of public health interventions is too long for individuals presently facing obesity and its deleterious physical and social co-morbidities. It argues that failure to address weight loss on an individual level, and specifically to consider the clinical appropriateness of weight loss surgery (WLS), raises serious questions about failure to respect autonomy and promote patient welfare. Moreover, social skepticism or rejection of WLS as a treatment option raises concerns about fairness, as this failure indicates that obesity is not regarded in relevantly similar ways to other life-threatening and health-impairing conditions. The dissertation examines various reasons that obesity and its myriad interventions, including WLS, are inadequately addressed in the clinical setting. It argues that considerations with cultural and ethical valence play a critical role in obesity's different and unfair treatment within clinical medicine. Gendered and theologically informed attributions of blame, self-blame, shame, and self-stigma influence the attitudes and actions of both patients and clinicians with regard to addressing obesity. Inappropriate and conceptually confused ascriptions of responsibility impede social acceptance of, and access to, WLS. The dissertation's criticism and subsequent reconceptualization of these ascriptions of responsibility from a perspective informed by feminist epistemology and ethics provide the foundation upon which to consider reform of current clinical practices surrounding treatment of obesity. This dissertation concludes that WLS is both ethically and clinically justified.