Practical virtue ethics: healthcare whistleblowing and portable digital technology

Journal of Medical Ethics 31 (10):612-618 (2005)
Abstract
Medical school curricula and postgraduate education programmes expend considerable resources teaching medical ethics. Simultaneously, whistleblowers’ agitation continues, at great personal cost, to prompt major intrainstitutional and public inquiries that reveal problems with the application of medical ethics at particular clinical “coalfaces”.Virtue ethics, emphasising techniques promoting an agent’s character and instructing their conscience, has become a significant mode of discourse in modern medical ethics. Healthcare whistleblowers, whose complaints are reasonable, made in good faith, in the public interest, and not vexatious, we argue, are practising those obligations of professional conscience foundational to virtue based medical ethics. Yet, little extant virtue ethics scholarship seriously considers the theoretical foundations of healthcare whistleblowing.The authors examine whether healthcare whistleblowing should be considered central to any medical ethics emphasising professional virtues and conscience. They consider possible causes for the paucity of professional or academic interest in this area and examine the counterinfluence of a continuing historical tradition of guild mentality professionalism that routinely places relationships with colleagues ahead of patient safety.Finally, it is proposed that a virtue based ethos of medical professionalism, exhibiting transparency and sincerity with regard to achieving uniform quality and safety of health care, may be facilitated by introducing a technological imperative using portable computing devices. Their use by trainees, focused on ethical competence, provides the practical face of virtue ethics in medical education and practice. Indeed, it assists in transforming the professional conscience of whistleblowing into a practical, virtue based culture of self reporting and personal development
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