Clinical ethics and values: how do norms evolve from practice? [Book Review]

Abstract
Bioethics laws in France have just undergone a revision process. The bioethics debate is often cast in terms of ethical principles and norms resisting emerging social and technological practices. This leads to the expression of confrontational attitudes based on widely differing interpretations of the same principles and values, and ultimately results in a deadlock. In this paper I would like to argue that focusing on values, as opposed to norms and principles, provides an interesting perspective on the evolution of norms. As Joseph Raz has convincingly argued, “life-building” values and practices are closely intertwined. Precisely because values have a more indeterminate meaning than norms, they can be cited as reasons for action by concerned stakeholders, and thus can help us understand how controversial practices, e.g. surrogate motherhood, can be justified. Finally, norms evolve when the interpretations of the relevant values shift and cause a change in the presumptions implicit in the norms. Thus, norms are not a prerequisite of the ethical solution of practical dilemmas, but rather the outcome of the decision-making process itself. Struggling to reach the right decision in controversial clinical ethics situations indirectly causes social and moral values to change and principles to be understood differently
Keywords Bioethics norms  Values  Practice  Presumption  Interpretation  Clinical ethics  Bioethics debate  France  Dignity  Living organ donation
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    Thomas Scanlon (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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