Money plays a powerful role in modern medicine, both in terms of how health services are organized and delivered and increasingly in how physicians understand themselves and their work. The phrase “the hegemony of money” is intended to capture that power.
In March 1996, the General Accounting Office issued the report Scientific Research: Continued Vigilance Critical to Protecting Human Subjects. It stated that “an inherent conflict of interest exists when physician-researchers include their patients in research protocols. If the physicians do not clearly distinguish between research and treatment in their attempt to inform subjects, the possible benefits of a study can be overemphasized and the risks minimized.” The report also acknowledged that “the line between research and treatment is not always clear (...) to clinicians. Controversy exists regarding whether certain medical procedures should be categorized as research.”This problem currently plagues gene transfer research. A few months prior to the GAO report, an ad hoc committee appointed by National Institutes of Health Director Harold Varmus expressed similar concerns in its assessment of NIH investment in research on gene therapy. (shrink)
Lauris Kaldjian makes a strong case for respecting the role of conscience in the practice of medicine. His excellent book, Practicing Medicine and Ethics, presents an historically informed and carefully crafted explication of the role of conscience in Western ethics and its relevance for medical practitioners. The essay that initiates the discussion in this issue of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine is an equally well-written and lucid account of this important component of morality. But it is also worrisome in its (...) implications for insulating conscience from the other facets of moral thinking and feeling. The reasons Kaldjian's account is not finally compelling stem from his tethering conscience too... (shrink)
Edmund Pellegrino claims that medical ethics must be derived from a perception of the patient's damaged humanity, rather than from the self-imposed duties of professionals. This essay explores the meaning and examines the challenges to this patient-centered ethic. Social scientific and bioethical interpretations of medicine constitute one kind of challenge. A more pervasive challenge is the ascendancy of managed care, and especially investor-owned, for-profit managed care. A list of questions addressed to patients, physicians and organizations is offered as one means (...) of assessing this threat and moving toward morally trustworthy relationships. (shrink)
Describing the U.S. health care system meansdescribing managed care under commercial forces. Managed care creates new moral tension forpractitioners, but more importantly, in its currentform it intensifies the commercialization of healthexpectations and interactions. The largely unregulatedmarketing of health services under managed care hasbeen a major factor in the increasing number ofuninsured citizens, while claims for cost reductionthrough managed care are equivocal. Risk-ratingpractices integral to the current medical marketplacethwart concerns for justice in allocation and createvulnerabilities for almost everyone. Thepolitical-moral concern of (...) the early 1990s for a rightto health care is nowhere in sight. (shrink)
The ethicist's role in the clinical context is not presently well defined. Ethicists can be thought of as moralists, technicians, Sophists, or as teachers and learners. Each of these roles is examined in turn. An argument is made for the ethicist as a teacher who must also learn a great deal about the clinical setting in order to encourage an effective critical examination of basic values. Four specific tasks of this teaching role are discussed: describing moral experience, eliciting assumptions, considering (...) multiple alternatives and justifying choices. (shrink)
Schneiderman, Jecker, and Jonsen have written an eloquent essay that both defends the concept of medical futility and describes their own candidate for a practical, working definition. Whether they have provided the best such definition I cannot say, but they are surely right to claim that some such concept is needed—for doctors to practice, for patients to receive good care, for family and friends of the patient to understand and prepare for what is happening, and for society to trust what (...) doctors say and do in delivering care. In brief, futility—or something like it—is a concept with important personal and social value, and more than simple prognostic meaning. One of the... (shrink)
We will argue here that after more than 30 years of talk, theory, and clinical practice, we bioethicists still know far too little about what patients, subjects, and healthcare professionals are up to, morally. Bioethics is still near the beginning in grasping what it means to understand, much less to honor fully, the moral power and perspicacity of those bioethics is designed to serve. This is, of course, a serious charge, but one we will endeavor to show has merit. However, (...) we want to be clear from the start that we do not gainsay the important work that has been done in and through the influence of bioethics, both as a field of practical engagement and as a cultural movement, in improving how healthcare is delivered and how human subjects are treated. Thirty or 40 years—depending on how one marks the beginning point—is a very short time, and it is hard to imagine that wholesale changes, all of them in the right direction, could be the outcome for a field this young. Hence, we do not intend the title, “One Cheer for Bioethics,” as a wholesale indictment, but as an indication that there is a great deal of work yet to be done, and that following the currently dominant direction of the field is not likely to get us there. Our aim is to indicate just where future work should be focused, and to do so we will need to be critical of some of the preoccupations of the last three decades. a. (shrink)
The age-rationing debate of fifteen years ago will inevitably reemerge as health care costs escalate. All age-rationing proposals should be judged in light of the current system of rationing health care by price in the U.S., and the resulting pattern of excess and deprivation. Age-rationing should be rejected as public policy, but recognized as a personal virtue of stewardship among the elderly.
Drew Leder's Clinical Interpretation: The Hermeneutics of Medicine  is an essay which understates its case and thereby opens itself to misinterpretation. This response to Leder argues for a more thorough-going hermeneutic for both medicine and science. At the conceptual as well as the practical level, modern medicine and its scientific foundations are hermeneutic enterprises. The purpose of this essay is to argue that we should not back away from this more radical thesis. Embracing it will result in less alienation (...) of physicians from patients, and of physicians from the tasks of medicine. (shrink)
This essay argues that Hume's theory of justice can be useful in framing a more persuasive case for universal access in health care. Theories of justice derived from a Rawlsian social contract tradition tend to make the conditions for deliberation on justice remote from the lives of most persons, while religiously-inspired views require superhuman levels of benevolence. By contrast, Hume's theory derives justice from the prudent reflections of socially-encumbered selves. This provides a more accessible moral theory and a more realistic (...) path to the establishment of universal access. (shrink)
Two decades ago, I wrote an essay expressing my skepticism about the nascent movement to certify bioethics consultants. My concerns were numerous. For example, I worried that the move toward certification would give too much weight to moral theory and neglect the importance of the less formal moral reasoning of patients and their families. I was also concerned that the effort to certify competence, complete with standardized testing, would be largely self-promotional and make unfounded claims about who has the capacity (...) to do this work. My worries were prescient. Notice, for example, the way that the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities was advertising its new Healthcare Ethics... (shrink)
AIDS and the responses and attitudes it evokes surpass the analytic abilities of standard bioethics. These responses and attitudes are explored in terms of literary and anthropological categories, such as dirt, disorder, pollution and ritual cleanliness. Implications for medical education are suggested.