Bioethics Blogs

The Scylla and Charybdis of Medical Ethics: Not Enough Medicine, Not Enough Ethics

I was at a conference last week in
medical ethics, and I was surprised by, or perhaps appalled at, the attitude
displayed by many of the philosophers regarding the importance of medical
knowledge in medical ethical decision making. Several of them proudly announced
a total ignorance of the medical issue they were speaking on, and also showed
no interest in what I would call “real world” implications of their
  Although I have a PhD in
philosophy, I am not a philosopher in the sense that I am capable of, or
interested in, spinning arguments from “thin air” with no grounding in medical
facts, and no implications for real medical practice.
  Medical ethics must begin in real life issues
and problems, and end with equally real and meaningful conclusions that can be
applied, and sometimes even empirically tested.

is not to say that philosophers cannot make good, or even great,
medical/clinical ethicists. But they need to begin with a healthy respect for
the way in which the “facts on the ground” inform the ethical
decision-making.  A brief example
illustrates my point.  In Hilde Lindemann
Nelson’s famous
article explaining narrative ethics, she discusses the case of
Carlos and Consuela. Carlos is an HIV positive gang member
wounded in gang violence, who is recovering from his injuries in a
hospital.  He is now ready for discharge,
but needs dressing changes at home.  He
wants his sister Consuela to do the dressing changes, but he insists that she
not be told about his HIV status. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.