Observations Ethics Man

Is bioethics a bully?

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e5802 (Published 03 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5802
  1. Daniel K Sokol, barrister and honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics, Imperial College London, UK
  1. daniel.sokol{at}talk21.com

Bioethics often adopts a paternalistic attitude towards clinicians, treating them as an ethically deficient species

When I worked with hospital ethicists in the United States, we would tell clinicians that we were not the “ethics police.” Just as the very existence of the Hippocratic oath makes one wonder about the ethics of ancient Greek physicians, the need for this reassuring remark suggests a problem with the perception of the ethics team by clinicians.

For years, I was immersed in bioethics. I lectured, researched, published, sat on committees, and visited medical establishments as an ethicist. The subject filled my working life. When I encountered resistance to my efforts, I assumed the problem lay with those who were objecting. They were the ones who misunderstood or were pig headed, not me, for who in their right mind could object to the value of bioethics? Now, I spend more days in court than in the lecture theatre. This newfound distance from ground zero has illuminated aspects of bioethics that I had missed, ignored, or taken for granted. Were the objectors right? Is bioethics …

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