Different ways to argue about medical ethics

Journal of Medical Ethics 44 (11):727-728 (2018)


Clarifying the meaning of ethical concepts is fundamental for medical ethics. Many of the best papers in the Journal of Medical Ethics have advanced our understanding of the limits and implications of ethical concepts. This issue includes a number of papers that give us reason to reflect on the use, implications and grounding of some important ethical concepts. The concepts we use are rarely neutral. For example, those arguing against assisted dying are more likely to use terms such as ‘euthanasia’ or perhaps even ‘killing’, while those arguing in favour of it might opt for ‘aid in dying’ or ‘facilitated aid in dying’. Of course, these are different concepts and do not mean the same thing, but the different associations and implications of concepts can weaken or strengthen a position. Woollard analyses the way in which the terms used in public information and discussions about breastfeeding can be morally loaded and thereby cause guilt or detract from the effectiveness of public information.1 She argues that normative concepts such as ‘harm’ or ‘dangerous’ and slogans such as ‘breast is best’ can imply moral duties or criticism when it is unhelpful and inappropriate to do so. She does this by showing how concepts such as ‘harm’ and ‘risk’, …

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