WEH/Ethox Seminar - Medical ethics: common or uncommon morality?

This seminar will be held by Bluejeans videoconferencing, please email admin@ethox.ox.ac.uk to register and the link will be sent to you in the morning of the seminar.

Common morality has been the touchstone for addressing issues of medical ethics since the publication of Beauchamp and Childress’s Principles of Biomedical Ethics in 1979. I challenge that reigning view by demonstrating why the standard common morality accounts of medical ethics are unsuitable for the profession and inadequate for responding to the distinctive issues that arise in medical practice.

By presenting vivid examples, I demonstrate that (1) some actions required or permitted by common morality, are prohibited for medical professionals; (2) some actions required or permitted by medical ethics, are prohibited by common morality; (3) some optional actions for people outside of medicine, are strict duties for medical professionals. I go on to distinguish social roles from professions and use that distinction to explain why medicine requires a distinctive ethics.

In sum, I argue that medical ethics is an autonomous field because the duties of doctors cannot be deduced from the precepts of common morality. I therefore conclude that as an independent domain of ethics, the specific requirements of medical ethics have to be defined, explained, and inculcated.