Journal of Medical Ethics 44 (1):1-2 (2018)

Jonathan Pugh
Oxford University
In medical ethics, we are often concerned with questions that pertain predominantly to the treatment of a particular individual. However, in a number of cases it is crucial to broaden the scope of our moral inquiry beyond consideration of the individual alone, since the interests of the individual can come into conflict with the interests of the wider community. How should we resolve such conflicts between the interests of the individual and the collective? Most readers of this journal will likely be familiar with the moral theory ‘classical utilitarianism’, which enjoins us to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This theory offers straightforward guidance in such conflicts, since it will typically be the case that the interests of the many will outweigh the interests of the individual in the utilitarian’s moral calculus. However, the simplicity of this approach is typically understood to be an inadequacy of the theory rather than an appropriate solution to these conflicts; contrary to the implications of classic utilitarianism, we would not believe it permissible to kill one innocent person in order to harvest life-saving organs for five others. Of course, adherents of utilitarianism have responded to this sort of problem by refining the theory in various ways. However, one may invoke different kinds of moral apparatus in order to navigate conflicts between the individual and the collective. In this issue, a number of papers engage with moral concepts that are central to different approaches to navigating these conflicts in practical debates. While it may clearly be in the interests of the collective to restrict the transmission of a dangerous infectious pathogen, methods of achieving this aim can be contrary to the interests of the particular individuals targeted by the intervention. Consider quarantine measures; in quarantine, individuals who are merely suspected of carrying …
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DOI 10.1136/medethics-2017-104679
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Autonomy, Rationality, and Contemporary Bioethics.Jonathan Pugh - 2020 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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