It is hypothesised and argued that “the four principles of medical ethics” can explain and justify, alone or in combination, all the substantive and universalisable claims of medical ethics and probably of ethics more generally. A request is renewed for falsification of this hypothesis showing reason to reject any one of the principles or to require any additional principle(s) that can’t be explained by one or some combination of the four principles. This approach is argued to be compatible with a (...) wide variety of moral theories that are often themselves mutually incompatible. It affords a way forward in the context of intercultural ethics, that treads the delicate path between moral relativism and moral imperialism. Reasons are given for regarding the principle of respect for autonomy as “first among equals”, not least because it is a necessary component of aspects of the other three. A plea is made for bioethicists to celebrate the approach as a basis for global moral ecumenism rather than mistakenly perceiving and denigrating it as an attempt at global moral imperialism. (shrink)
Knowledge of the ethical and legal basis of medicine is as essential to clinical practice as an understanding of basic medical sciences. In the UK, the General Medical Council requires that medical graduates behave according to ethical and legal principles and must know about and comply with the GMC’s ethical guidance and standards. We suggest that these standards can only be achieved when the teaching and learning of medical ethics, law and professionalism are fundamental to, and thoroughly integrated both vertically (...) and horizontally throughout, the curricula of all medical schools as a shared obligation of all teachers. The GMC also requires that each medical school provides adequate teaching time and resources to achieve the above. We reiterate that the adequate provision and coordination of teaching and learning of ethics and law requires at least one full-time senior academic in ethics and law with relevant professional and academic expertise. In this paper we set out an updated indicative core content of learning for medical ethics and law in UK medical schools and describe its origins and the consultative process by which it was achieved. (shrink)
This paper argues that Charlie Gard’s parents should have been the decision-makers about their son’s best interests and that determination of Charlie’s best interests depended on a moral decision about which horn of a profound moral dilemma to choose. Charlie’s parents chose one horn of that moral dilemma and the courts, like Charlie Gard’s doctors, chose the other horn. Contrary to the first UK court’s assertion, supported by all the higher courts that considered it, that its judgement was ‘objective’, this (...) paper argues that the judgement was not and could not be ‘objective’ in the sense of objectively correct but was instead a value judgement based on the judge’s choice of one horn of the moral dilemma. While that horn was morally justified so too was the horn chosen by the parents. The court could and should have avoided depriving the parents of their normal moral and legal right and responsibility to decide on their child’s best interests. Instead, this paper argues that the court should have acknowledged the lawfulness of both horns of the moral dilemma and added to its judgement that Charlie Gard’s doctors were not legally obliged to provide treatment that they believed to be against their patient’s best interests the additional judgement that Charlie’s parents could lawfully transfer his care to other doctors prepared to offer the infant a trial of the experimental treatment requested by his parents. (shrink)
Promoting respect for the four principles remains of great practical importance in ordinary medicineThe following are four “scenarios” with brief outlines of how Raanan Gillon has analysed them using the “four principles” approach. These are the four cases that the commentators were asked to analyse.Professor Gillon has for many years advocated the use of the Beauchamp and Childress four principles approach as a widely and interculturally acceptable method for medical ethics analysis . At present there seems to be a backlash (...) by some bioethicists against this approach, with among others, adherents of feminist ethics, narrative ethics, virtue ethics, and various varieties of regional ethics claiming to offer better approaches to medical ethics.At Raanan Gillon’s request this special issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics is intended to focus on this aspect of his work, with a view not only to discussing the issue of how different approaches to medical ethics are and/or are not compatible with the four principles approach but also to make clear to JME readers what alternative ethics analysis method is preferred and used by the various commentators.THE “STANDARD” JEHOVAH’S WITNESS CASEIn the first scenario, that of the “standard” Jehovah’s Witness case, a competent adult patient loses a massive amount of blood from a blood vessel bleeding in an acute duodenal ulcer. The best chance of …. (shrink)
This paper argues that the central issue in the abortion debate has not changed since 1967 when the English parliament enacted the Abortion Act. That central issue concerns the moral status of the human fetus. The debate here is not, it is argued, primarily a moral debate, but rather a metaphysical debate and/or a theological debate—though one with massive moral implications. It concerns the nature and attributes that an entity requires to have “full moral standing” or “moral inviolability” including a (...) “right to life”. It concerns the question when, in its development from newly fertilised ovum to unequivocally mature, autonomous morally inviolable person does a human being acquire that nature and those attributes, and thus a “right to life”. The paper briefly reviews standard answers to these questions, outlining some problems associated with each. Finally there is a brief discussion of one way in which the abortion debate has changed since 1967—notably in the increasingly vociferous claim, especially from disability rights sectors, that abortion on grounds of fetal abnormality implies contempt for and rejection of disabled people—a claim that is rebutted. (shrink)
In this issue of the journal “Lee Elder”,1 a pseudonymous dissident Jehovah's Witness , previously an Elder of that faith and still a JW, joins the indefatigable Dr Muramoto2–5 in arguing that even by their own religious beliefs based on biblical scriptures JWs are not required to refuse potentially life-saving blood transfusions. Just as the “official” JW hierarchy has accepted that biblical scriptures do not forbid the transfusion or injection of blood fractions so too JW theology logically can and should (...) permit the transfusion of whole blood when this is medically required.Few doctors would argue that they should override the adequately autonomous decisions of Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions even if they are likely to die as a result of such transfusions. However, there is a case to be made for doctors asking such patients to reflect on their potentially fatal refusal of blood and for drawing to these patients' attention the reasoning of members of their own faith that justifies acceptance of potentially life-saving blood transfusions. What is that case? Simply that doctors' primary professional duty to try to benefit the health of their patients entails trying to save their patients' lives when and if doing so will benefit their patients' health. Of course this is not an absolute duty overriding all other duties; in particular if patients who are adequately autonomous to do so refuse such life-prolonging treatment doctors must generally accept such refusal, however sadly. This editorial endorses that view in the case of adequately autonomous legally competent JWs. (In another paper in this issue of the journal Professor Shimon Glick argues that ethics committees should be empowered—as they now are in Israel—to override even competent refusals of life-prolonging treatment where the committee judges that …. (shrink)
Ted Shotter's founding of the London Medical Group 50 years ago in 1963 had several far reaching implications for medical ethics, as other papers in this issue indicate. Most significant for the joint authors of this short paper was his founding of the quarterly Journal of Medical Ethics in 1975, with Alastair Campbell as its first editor-in-chief. In 1980 Raanan Gillon began his 20-year editorship . Gillon was succeeded in 2001 by Julian Savulescu, followed by John Harris and Soren Holm (...) in 2004, with Julian Savulescu starting his second and current term in 2011. In 2000 an additional special edition of the JME, Medical Humanities , was published, under the founding joint editorship of Martyn Evans and David Greaves. In 2003 Jane Macnaughton succeeded David Greaves as joint editor. Deborah Kirklin, under whose auspices MH became an independent journal, took over in 2008, and she was succeeded in 2013 by Sue Eckstein. This short paper offers reminiscences and reflections from the two journals’ various editors.From the start the JME was committed to clearly expressed reasoned discussion of ethical issues arising from or related to medical practice and research. In particular, both Edward Shotter and Alastair Campbell, each a cleric , were at pains to make clear that the JME was not a religious journal and that it had no sort of partisan axe to grind.Campbell's appointment as founding editor was something of a surprise, as the original intention had been to appoint a medical doctor, who could be expected to know medical practice from the inside. However, in 1972 Campbell, a Joint Secretary of the Edinburgh Medical Group, had published Moral dilemmas in medicine. …. (shrink)
This paper, based on a talk given at a conference on compassion in health care held at the Royal Society of Medicine in November 2012, argues that the ethical requirement for humanity in health care is obvious and needs little ethical analysis – the problem is to get the results of ethical reflection, ordinary humanity and everyday common sense, into everyday behaviour. The author offers some suggestions that might help to achieve this aim and bring back the human face of (...) health and social care. These suggestions concern organisational structural changes (including `humanity objectives' in appraisal and reward schemes); individual attitudes (including self assessment of their own humanity in their work by all health and social care workers – `does my own practice manifest a human face?'); and a possible research agenda (and a concomitant effort to remind all health care research funders that `humanity is an integral component of medical, health and care research'. And the author proposes a standing high level `humanity task force' to implement and oversee Health Education England's recent `humanity mandate'. (shrink)
Late last year the English Court of Appeal confirmed a lower court's ruling that doctors could impose an operation to separate recently born conjoined twins, overriding the refusal of consent of their parents. The doctors believed the operation would probably save one of the babies at the cost of killing the other, while not operating would highly probably be followed by the death of both twins within months of their birth. The parents, said to be devout Roman Catholics, believed that (...) it was absolutely wrong to kill one of their babies, even to save the life of the other.Undoubtedly many people, the writer included, would agree with the English courts that the “least worst” option was to separate the twins and save one at the cost of killing the other. But surely many fewer people would have imposed their own resolution of this acute moral dilemma upon parents who conscientiously chose the other limb of the dilemma, refusing to kill one baby even in order to save the other. Were the English judges right, then, to take away the parents' normal right and duty to make health care decisions on behalf of their children and instead impose their own answer to what they admitted to be a terrible dilemma? Describing the two alternatives in terms of choosing between the lesser of two evils on the one hand, and the obligation not to kill on the other, Lord Justice Ward declared, according to The Times law report,1 that: “Parents who were placed on the horns of such a terrible dilemma simply had to choose the lesser of their inevitable loss [sic]”. But that surely is to beg the moral question in favour of the judges' preferred answer to this moral dilemma. The fact is that there are—as …. (shrink)
This commentary briefly argues that the four prima facie principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for autonomy and justice enable a clinician (and anybody else) to make ethical sense of the author's proposed reliance on professional guidance and rules, on law, on professional integrity and on best interests, and to subject them all to ethical analysis and criticism based on widely acceptable basic prima facie moral obligations; and also to confront new situations in the light of those acceptable principles.
Medical Ethics has many unsung heros and heroines. Here we celebrate one of these and on telling part of her story hope to place modern medical ethics and bioethics in the UK more centrally within its historical and human contex.