“Ethics Man” misses mark: most bioethicists are not thugsBMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e6549 (Published 02 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6549
All rapid responses
Who could quip with Sokol highlighting the need for a standardized biomedical ethics curriculum? (1) This is a reasonable requirement for any academic discipline. It is what Sokol’s view of bioethics omits when he implies that bioethicists can be bullies and paternalistic to physicians that is disconcerting.
As the well used adage goes, bio-ethics was born of scandal. And on this side of the pond scandals now involve research ethics committees. In one profiled case research ethics committees at a dozen academic research centers failed to inform research participants that the experimental treatments being measured involved being withdrawn from the best therapeutic treatment and risk involved death. (2) Disturbing but true, but as Carl Elliot points out in the Chronicle of higher education, there is a long list of ongoing unethical practices occurring in leading academic research centres, many of which have bioethics departments.(3) Given this situation, wouldn’t the public want bioethicists to be bullies if it prevented abuse and served to better protect the public? Would this not be justified? Moreover, research ethics committees - and the ethicists who sit on them - are suppose to be paternalistic. It is their role to know what is good for the public in terms of being informed of ethical standards that govern research and ensuring that they are enforced. Unfortunately the institutional reality has been quite different.
But all of this is missing from Sokol’s view and the ensuing BMJ print discussion. (4) Would a standardized ethics curriculum prevent scandals and curb unethical practices? Not likely. Most bioethicists who raised a public stink would be out of a job quickly or sentenced to institutional misery as whistle blowers in the UK know all to well. (5)
Against this backdrop, it is difficult to side with Sokol. He loses sight of the public interest in bioethics and one can only speculate why he seeks to to curry favor with the medical establishment. Ethicists being bullies and paternalistic........ the public can only hope
1. Sokol DK. Is bioethics a bully? BMJ2012;345:e5802. (3 September.)
2. Wilson M, Human rights and failure of research governance, Journal of Disability Policy Studies, Vol18/No.1/pp,57-59
3. Elliot C. Studying Bioethics at Scandal-Plagued Universities, The Chronicle of HIgher Education, April 17, 2012.
4 Crites J, Volpe R, "Ethics Man" misses mark: most bio-ethicists are not thugs. BMJ 345 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e6549
5. Smith R, A successful and cheerful Whistleblower. BMJ, Oct, 10,2012
Competing interests: No competing interests