Thomas Foth Biography

Thomas Foth

Thomas Foth, RN, MEd, PhD, is Associate Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Ottawa. His fields of interest include history of nursing, critical analysis of nursing practice, nursing theories and epistemology, ethics, nursing care provided to marginalized populations, power relationships between healthcare professionals and patients, and finally, gender issues in nursing. He published a book about the role of nurses in the killing of psychiatric patients during the Nazi regime (V&R, 2013) and co-edited with various colleagues from Germany , the US and Canada the open access book “Critical Approaches in Nursing Theory and Nursing Research. Implications for Nursing Practice” (V&R, 2017). Together with his Canadian colleagues Dave Holmes and Stuart Murray he co-edited the book  “Radical Sex between Men. Assembling Desiring-Machines” (Routledge, 2018) 

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Abstract: Humanitarian Reason and the movement for Overdose Prevention Sites – The NGOization of the Opoid “Crisis”

In August 2017 a group of activists erected in Ottawa’s downtown a tent as a first overdose prevention site in the nation’s capital with the aim of offering users a safe place to use drugs. The site, considered illegal when it was erected, was a response to what the public and the activists perceived as an epidemic – a devastating wave of opioid and fentanyl overdoses in Canada. The Ontario premier was urged to declare “an emergency response to the marked increase in opioid overdoses and related deaths.” The declaration of an emergency would provide increased funding for harm reduction workers and additional overdose prevention sites and would also send a message to survivors and families that the lives of their loved ones mattered.

Thus, the discourses around the so-called opioid crisis used a language of moral sentiments to legitimate political action. In my talk, I will critically engage with this “new humanitarianism,” considered a priori as good, and ask what is politically at stake if we base our actions on the logic of humanitarian reason. The new universalism of humanitarian organizations is based on the individualism of human rights and thus on a moral imperative that replaces the political. With this universalism also comes a different way of how humanity is perceived and how it should be protected. Initiatives like the OPS movement often fill the gaps in social services in the absence of the state, but they only do this in the context of emergency. Social problems are addressed as emergencies and public health issues, thereby transforming them into medical problems - performing the medicalization of sociopolitical problems. This is what I call the NGOization of the opioid crisis. This form of humanitarianism is a universalism of the temporal present without any universal promise for a better future or the amelioration of human conditions – it is a humanitarianism of emergency. What characterizes new humanitarianism is that it responds to situations of suffering that are the result of increasing inequality and injustices without addressing the root causes of this suffering. Not addressing these causes means to be complicit in perpetuating the inequalities and to restrict visions of possible alternatives.

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