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While the medical ethics literature has well explored the harm to patients, families, and the integrity of the profession in failing to disclose medical errors once they occur, less often addressed are the moral and professional obligations to take all available steps to prevent errors and harm in the first instance. As an expanding body of scholarship further elucidates the causes of medical error, including the considerable extent to which medical errors, particularly in diagnostics, may be attributable to cognitive sources, insufficient progress in systematically evaluating and implementing suggested strategies for improving critical thinking skills and medical judgment is of mounting concern. Continued failure to address pervasive thinking errors in medical decisionmaking imperils patient safety and professionalism, as well as beneficence and nonmaleficence, fairness and justice. We maintain that self-reflective and metacognitive refinement of critical thinking should not be construed as optional but rather should be considered an integral part of medical education, a codified tenet of professionalism, and by extension, a moral and professional duty.
Respect for persons protects patients regarding their own healthcare decisions. Patient informed choice for altruism (PICA) is a proposed means for a fully autonomous patient with decisionmaking capacity to limit his or her own treatment for altruistic reasons. An altruistic decision could bond the patient with others at the end of life. We contend that PICA can also be an advance directive option. The proxy, family, and physicians must be reminded that a patient’s altruistic treatment refusal should be respected.
The specialty of psychiatry has a long-standing, virtually monolithic view that a desire to die, even a desire for a hastened death among the terminally ill, is a manifestation of mental illness. Recently, psychiatry has made significant inroads into hospice and palliative care, and in doing so brings with it the conviction that dying patients who seek to end their suffering by asserting control over the time and manner of their inevitable death should be provided with psychotherapeutic measures rather than having their expressed wishes respected as though their desire for an earlier death were the rational choice of someone with decisional capacity. This article reviews and critiques this approach from the perspective of recent clinical data indicating that patients who secure and utilize a lethal prescription are generally exercising an autonomous choice unencumbered by clinical depression or other forms of incapacitating mental illness.
Property-based models of the ownership of body parts are common. They are inadequate. They fail to deal satisfactorily with many important problems, and even when they do work, they rely on ideas that have to be derived from deeper, usually unacknowledged principles. This article proposes that the parent principle is always human dignity, and that one will get more satisfactory answers if one interrogates the older, wiser parent instead of the younger, callow offspring. But human dignity has a credibility problem. It is often seen as hopelessly amorphous or incurably theological. These accusations are often just. But a more thorough exegesis exculpates dignity and gives it its proper place at the fountainhead of bioethics. Dignity is objective human thriving. Thriving considerations can and should be applied to dead people as well as live ones. To use dignity properly, the unit of bioethical analysis needs to be the whole transaction rather than (for instance) the doctor-patient relationship. The dignity interests of all the stakeholders are assessed in a sort of utilitarianism. Its use in relation to body part ownership is demonstrated. Article 8(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights endorses and mandates this approach.
Bioethicists are sometimes thought to have heightened obligations by virtue of the fact that their professional role addresses ethics or morals. For this reason it has been argued that bioethicists ought to “whistleblow”—that is, publicly expose the wrongful or potentially harmful activities of their employer—more often than do other kinds of employees. This article argues that bioethicists do indeed have a heightened obligation to whistleblow, but not because bioethicists have heightened moral obligations in general. Rather, the special duties of bioethicists to act as whistleblowers are best understood by examining the nature of the ethical dilemma typically encountered by private employees and showing why bioethicists do not encounter this dilemma in the same way. Whistleblowing is usually understood as a moral dilemma involving conflicting duties to two parties: the public and a private employer. However, this article argues that this way of understanding whistleblowing has the implication that professions whose members identify their employer as the public—such as government employees or public servants—cannot consider whistleblowing a moral dilemma, because obligations are ultimately owed to only one party: the public. The article contends that bioethicists—even when privately employed—are similar to government employees in the sense that they do not have obligations to defer to the judgments of those with private interests. Consequently, bioethicists may be considered to have a special duty to whistleblow, although for different reasons than those usually cited.
It is a common belief that obesity is wholly or partially a question of personal choice and personal responsibility. It is also widely assumed that when individuals are responsible for some unfortunate state of affairs, society bears no burden to compensate them. This article focuses on two conceptualizations of responsibility: backward-looking and forward-looking conceptualizations. When ascertaining responsibility in a backward-looking sense, one has to determine how that state of affairs came into being or where the agent stood in relation to it. In contrast, a forward-looking conceptualization of responsibility puts aside questions of the past and holds a person responsible by reference to some desirable future state of affairs and will typically mean that he or she is subjected to criticism, censure, or other negative appraisals or that he or she is held cost-responsible in some form, for example, in terms of demanded compensation, loss of privileges, or similar. One example of this view is the debate as to whether the obese should be denied, wholly or partially, free and equal access to healthcare, not because they are somehow personally responsible in the backward-looking sense but simply because holding the obese responsible will have positive consequences. Taking these two conceptions of responsibility into account, the authors turn their analysis toward examining the relevant moral considerations to be taken into account when public policies regarding obesity rely on such a conception of responsibility.
To submit a case that has been reviewed by an ethics committee or to submit papers on related topics in clinical ethics, readers are invited to contact section editor Ruchika Mishra at email@example.com.