Researching AUM – Aaron Cobb applies philosophy to Hospice

Photo: Aaron Cobb works at Auburn University at Montgomery.

In broad terms, philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. Aaron Cobb applies these theoretical concepts to real-world situations.

“I work on practical concerns in bioethics – the ethics of medical and biological research – mostly related to the ethics of hospice care,” explained Cobb.

And for the Auburn University at Montgomery philosopher, it’s personal.

“My son, Samuel, was diagnosed in utero with a significantly life-limiting condition and he lived for only a few hours after his birth,” said Cobb, whose son died in 2012 from a rare chromosomal abnormality. “My book, ‘Loving Samuel: Suffering, Dependence, and the Calling of Love,’ is an extended reflection on suffering, virtue, and the human condition.”

Cobb says he never originally planned to write a memoir, “but I tend to process things by writing and ended up seeking a publisher because friends thought it would be beneficial to others.”

His forthcoming book will offer an extended defense of the practice of perinatal hospice – the specialized care and support for parents of a baby diagnosed with a life-threatening condition during pregnancy.

“It’s a form of care from which we benefitted during our time waiting for Samuel's birth and death,” he said. “There are a lot of connections between perinatal hospice and people caring for a terminally ill parent or spouse. Similar questions and ethical concerns arise about end-of-life care at both ends of the spectrum.”

It’s part of a broader scholarship in which Cobb focuses on the nature of virtues and vices.

“I ask questions like: What is humility? Is it a virtue? Is pride a vice opposed to humility? How do we cultivate humility? What are connections between humility and other virtues?” he said.

Cobb believes his current work on perinatal hospice has the potential to reform some common practices in medical care.

“My real hope is that the book can help alter how doctors and nurses are trained to deal with these types of situations,” he said. “I also think that ‘Loving Samuel’ has had an impact – after the book came out, individuals and families with similar experiences have reached out to share their stories. And last year, Asbury University (Kentucky) adopted this book as a central text for their freshman level seminar in Liberal Arts.”

On the AUM faculty since 2010, Dr. Cobb might have chosen an academic career that cultivated his curiosity of music or psychology.

“But during college my interests shifted, and I became focused on more foundational questions. One of my professors inspired me to think deeply about important questions in ethics and I decided that I wanted to pursue advanced studies in philosophy.”

Nick teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery (aum.edu/Degrees) and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 700 newspapers and magazines (getnickt.com).