Some things ought never be done: Moral absolutes in clinical ethics [Book Review]

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 26 (6):469-486 (2005)
Moral absolutes have little or no moral standing in our morally diverse modern society. Moral relativism is far more palatable for most ethicists and to the public at large. Yet, when pressed, every moral relativist will finally admit that there are some things which ought never be done. It is the rarest of moral relativists that will take rape, murder, theft, child sacrifice as morally neutral choices. In general ethics, the list of those things that must never be done will vary from person to person. In clinical ethics, however, the nature of the physician–patient relationship is such that certain moral absolutes are essential to the attainment of the good of the patient – the end of the relationship itself. These are all derivatives of the first moral absolute of all morality: Do good and avoid evil. In the clinical encounter, this absolute entails several subsidiary absolutes – act for the good of the patient, do not kill, keep promises, protect the dignity of the patient, do not lie, avoid complicity with evil. Each absolute is intrinsic to the healing and helping ends of the clinical encounter.
Keywords clinical encounter  dignity  moral absolute  moral relativism  physician–patient relationship  The good of the patient
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