Expertise, Ethics Expertise, and Clinical Ethics Consultation: Achieving Terminological Clarity

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 41 (4):416-433 (2016)
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Abstract

The language of ethics expertise has become particularly important in bioethics in light of efforts to establish the value of the clinical ethics consultation, to specify who is qualified to function as a clinical ethics consultant, and to characterize how one should evaluate whether or not a person is so qualified. Supporters and skeptics about the possibility of ethics expertise use the language of ethics expertise in ways that reflect competing views about what ethics expertise entails. We argue for clarity in understanding the nature of expertise and ethics expertise. To be an ethics expert, we argue, is to be an expert in knowing what ought to be done. Any attempt to articulate expertise with respect to knowing what ought to be done must include an account of ethics that specifies the nature of moral truth and the means by which we access this truth or a theoretical account of ethics such that expertise in another domain is linked to knowing or being better at judging what ought to be done and the standards by which this “knowing” or “being better at judging” is determined. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our analysis for the literature on ethics expertise in CEC. We do think that there are clear domains in which a clinical ethics consultant might be expert but we are skeptical about the possibility that this includes ethics expertise. Clinical ethics consultants should not be referred to as ethics experts.

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Ana S. Iltis
Wake Forest University