Teaching bioethics at (or near) the bedside

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 27 (4):433 – 445 (2002)
Many teachers of bioethics often express concern, in their writings and otherwise, about the theoretical basis (or lack of it) of bioethics and the allied issue of relativism. The companion articles by Tong and Momeyer are in this vein and rightly address such issues within the context of a liberal arts education. This article addresses such issues in a different venue, i.e., bioethics teaching in the clinical sphere of health care institutions. It presumes to suggest that many of these theoretical concerns, as well as the threat of relativism, seldom arise in this sphere. Rather, a broad based, well accepted body of moral truth has been fashioned over the last quarter century and it is this that clinical bioethics regularly keys to and to which most moral dilemmas are referred for resolution. The various forms of this pedagogy, e.g., case consultations or institutional policy statements, are charted out in this regard, as well as the often tactical character of much of this teaching, i.e., not "what should we do?", but "how might we best do it?". The article then goes on to conclude with a reflection on the use and abuse of power in clinical bioethics teaching and consultation.
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