This paper argues that Charlie Gard’s parents should have been the decision-makers about their son’s best interests and that determination of Charlie’s best interests depended on a moral decision about which horn of a profound moral dilemma to choose. Charlie’s parents chose one horn of that moral dilemma and the courts, like Charlie Gard’s doctors, chose the other horn. Contrary to the first UK court’s assertion, supported by all the higher courts that considered it, that its judgement was ‘objective’, this (...) paper argues that the judgement was not and could not be ‘objective’ in the sense of objectively correct but was instead a value judgement based on the judge’s choice of one horn of the moral dilemma. While that horn was morally justified so too was the horn chosen by the parents. The court could and should have avoided depriving the parents of their normal moral and legal right and responsibility to decide on their child’s best interests. Instead, this paper argues that the court should have acknowledged the lawfulness of both horns of the moral dilemma and added to its judgement that Charlie Gard’s doctors were not legally obliged to provide treatment that they believed to be against their patient’s best interests the additional judgement that Charlie’s parents could lawfully transfer his care to other doctors prepared to offer the infant a trial of the experimental treatment requested by his parents. (shrink)
The World Medical Association (WMA), the global representation of the medical profession, first adopted the International Code of Medical Ethics (ICoME) in 1949 to outline the professional duties of physicians to patients, other physicians and health professionals, themselves and society as a whole. The ICoME recently underwent a major 4-year revision process, culminating in its unanimous adoption by the WMA General Assembly in October 2022 in Berlin. This article describes and discusses the ICoME, its revision process, the controversial and uncontroversial (...) issues, and the broad consensus achieved among WMA constituent members, representing over 10 million physicians worldwide. The authors analyse the ICoME, including its response to contemporary changes and challenges like ethical plurality and globalisation, in light of ethical theories and approaches, reaching the conclusion that the document is a good example of international ethical professional self-regulation. (shrink)
This paper argues that the central issue in the abortion debate has not changed since 1967 when the English parliament enacted the Abortion Act. That central issue concerns the moral status of the human fetus. The debate here is not, it is argued, primarily a moral debate, but rather a metaphysical debate and/or a theological debate—though one with massive moral implications. It concerns the nature and attributes that an entity requires to have “full moral standing” or “moral inviolability” including a (...) “right to life”. It concerns the question when, in its development from newly fertilised ovum to unequivocally mature, autonomous morally inviolable person does a human being acquire that nature and those attributes, and thus a “right to life”. The paper briefly reviews standard answers to these questions, outlining some problems associated with each. Finally there is a brief discussion of one way in which the abortion debate has changed since 1967—notably in the increasingly vociferous claim, especially from disability rights sectors, that abortion on grounds of fetal abnormality implies contempt for and rejection of disabled people—a claim that is rebutted. (shrink)
Justice, one of the four Beauchamp and Childress prima facie basic principles of biomedical ethics, is explored in two excellent papers in the current issue of the journal. The papers stem from a British Medical Association essay competition on justice and fairness in medical practice and policy. Although the competition was open to all comers, of the 235 entries both the winning paper by Alistair Wardrope1 and the highly commended runner-up by Zoe Fritz and Caitríona Cox2 were written by practising (...) doctors—a welcome indication of the growing importance being accorded to philosophical reflection about medical practice and practices within medicine itself. Both papers are thoroughly thought provoking and represent two very different approaches to the topic. Each deserves a careful read. The competition was a component of a BMA 2019/2020 ‘Presidential project’ on fairness and justice and asked candidates to ‘use ethical reasoning and theory to tackle challenging, practical, contemporary, problems in health care and help provide a solution based on an explained and defended sense of fairness/justice’. In this guest editorial I’d like to explain why, in 2018 on becoming president-elect of the BMA, I chose the theme of justice and fairness in medical ethics for my 2019–2020 Presidential project—and why in a world of massive and ever-increasing and remediable health inequalities biomedical ethics requires greater international and interdisciplinary efforts to try to reach agreement on the need to achieve greater ‘health justice’ and to reach agreement on what that commitment actually means and on what in practice it requires. First, some background. As president I was offered the wonderful opportunity to pursue, with the organisation’s formidable assistance, a ‘project’ consistent with the BMA’s interests and values. As a hybrid of general medical practitioner and philosopher/medical ethicist, and as a firm defender of the Beauchamp …. (shrink)
Ted Shotter's founding of the London Medical Group 50 years ago in 1963 had several far reaching implications for medical ethics, as other papers in this issue indicate. Most significant for the joint authors of this short paper was his founding of the quarterly Journal of Medical Ethics in 1975, with Alastair Campbell as its first editor-in-chief. In 1980 Raanan Gillon began his 20-year editorship . Gillon was succeeded in 2001 by Julian Savulescu, followed by John Harris and Soren Holm (...) in 2004, with Julian Savulescu starting his second and current term in 2011. In 2000 an additional special edition of the JME, Medical Humanities , was published, under the founding joint editorship of Martyn Evans and David Greaves. In 2003 Jane Macnaughton succeeded David Greaves as joint editor. Deborah Kirklin, under whose auspices MH became an independent journal, took over in 2008, and she was succeeded in 2013 by Sue Eckstein. This short paper offers reminiscences and reflections from the two journals’ various editors.From the start the JME was committed to clearly expressed reasoned discussion of ethical issues arising from or related to medical practice and research. In particular, both Edward Shotter and Alastair Campbell, each a cleric , were at pains to make clear that the JME was not a religious journal and that it had no sort of partisan axe to grind.Campbell's appointment as founding editor was something of a surprise, as the original intention had been to appoint a medical doctor, who could be expected to know medical practice from the inside. However, in 1972 Campbell, a Joint Secretary of the Edinburgh Medical Group, had published Moral dilemmas in medicine. …. (shrink)
This paper, based on a talk given at a conference on compassion in health care held at the Royal Society of Medicine in November 2012, argues that the ethical requirement for humanity in health care is obvious and needs little ethical analysis – the problem is to get the results of ethical reflection, ordinary humanity and everyday common sense, into everyday behaviour. The author offers some suggestions that might help to achieve this aim and bring back the human face of (...) health and social care. These suggestions concern organisational structural changes (including `humanity objectives' in appraisal and reward schemes); individual attitudes (including self assessment of their own humanity in their work by all health and social care workers – `does my own practice manifest a human face?'); and a possible research agenda (and a concomitant effort to remind all health care research funders that `humanity is an integral component of medical, health and care research'. And the author proposes a standing high level `humanity task force' to implement and oversee Health Education England's recent `humanity mandate'. (shrink)
Medical Ethics has many unsung heros and heroines. Here we celebrate one of these and on telling part of her story hope to place modern medical ethics and bioethics in the UK more centrally within its historical and human contex.
In this journal, Dr Daniel Daly, an American bioethicist, uses a principlist approach (respect for autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice) to argue that intravenous opiate users should not be denied repeat heart valve replacements if these are medically indicated, ‘unless the valve replacement significantly violates another’s autonomy or one or more of the three remaining principles’.1 In brief outline, the paper seeks to use a widely accepted ethical theory—‘principlism’ as developed by Beauchamp and Childress over the last 40 plus years (...) and eight editions of their ground-breaking book Principles of Biomedical Ethics2—to resolve clinical disagreement about the ethics of denying medically indicated life-prolonging treatment to patients who continue or resume intravenous opiate use. The argument Dr Daly's argument in very brief summary is that in the context of contemporary American medical practice, such treatment is ethically justified—perhaps even ethically required—if requested or accepted by an adequately autonomous patient and thus respects the patient’s autonomy, if it is not harmful to the patient, if it is beneficial to the patient, and if it is fair and just in terms of Aristotle’s formal theory of justice according to which equals should be treated equally while unequals should be treated unequally in proportion to the morally relevant inequality or inequalities. Dr Daly focuses his argument around a typical case description where these conditions are met and therefore where, he concludes, repeat heart valve replacements ought to be provided. As Dr Daly notes, principlism ‘is not without its problems; nonetheless it does provide a viable set of principles that are widely held by medical ethicists and inform the work of ethics committees at many secular medical facilities’. DOI (declaration of interest): The writer of this editorial is a career-long supporter and defender of the use of ‘principlism’ or ‘the four principles …. (shrink)
This commentary briefly argues that the four prima facie principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for autonomy and justice enable a clinician (and anybody else) to make ethical sense of the author's proposed reliance on professional guidance and rules, on law, on professional integrity and on best interests, and to subject them all to ethical analysis and criticism based on widely acceptable basic prima facie moral obligations; and also to confront new situations in the light of those acceptable principles.
This paper describes the medical ethics scene in Britain. After giving a brief account of the structure of British medical ethics and of the roles of the different groups involved it mentions some of the important medico-moral events and issues of the fairly recent past, and describes in greater detail four important examples of professional, legal, governmental and media concerns with medical ethics, themselves illustrating the wide variety of interests wishing to influence the British medical profession's ethics. The examples offered (...) are the development of research ethics committees, the Sidaway case concerning informed consent, the Warnock Committee's Report on in vitro fertilisation and associated issues, and the 1980 Reith Lectures on Unmasking Medicine. In the final section a fairly new methodological development in British medical ethics is described in which the medical profession is increasingly recognising the need to add to traditional medical ethics education, with its longstanding history of the inculation and enforcement of ethical norms, an element of philosophical or critical medical ethics, at the heart of which is justification of substantive medico-moral claims in the light of counterarguments. (shrink)
We wish to describe and acknowledge the exceptional contributions to medical ethics, both in the UK and internationally, made by Edward Shotter1 who died at home on 3 July 2019. He was founder of the London Medical Group2 3 and instigator of similar student-led medical ethics groups throughout the UK; founder of the Institute of Medical Ethics4 and founder of the Journal of Medical Ethics. Ted Shotter transformed the study of medical ethics in the UK in the interests of patients (...) and professionals alike. In 1963, he established the pioneering ‘Medical Group’ model, an innovative bottom-up method whereby students in the health professions could gain a grounding in ethics that had previously been denied to the profession.5 It was with these Medical Groups that many of the leading figures in contemporary UK medical ethics and law began their careers in the subject including Sir Kenneth Calman, Sir Ian Kennedy, Professor Margaret Brazier OBE, Professor John Harris and Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery to name but …. (shrink)