Navigators and captains: Expertise in clinical ethics consultation

The debate about what constitutes the discipline of ethics and who qualifies as an ethics consultant is linked unavoidably to a debate that is potentiated by the reality of a rapidly changing and high-stakes health care consultation marketplace. Who we are and what we can offer to the moral gesture that is medicine is shaped by our fundamental understanding of the place of expert knowledge in the transformation of social reality. The struggle for self-definition is particularly freighted since clinical ethics consultation aspires to be more than academic contemplation. Two recent books (Ethics Consultation by John La Puma and David Schiedermayer and The Health Care Ethics Consultant: A Practical Guide, edited by Francoise Baylis) exemplify the two most popular but most widely divergent positions on these issues. We argue that while useful, neither book addresses fully the particular and distinct role of the professional ethicist.
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