As the secretary of my hospital’s biomedical ethics committee, I’ve had the privilege of working with many members of our health care team to ensure a high degree of moral propriety regarding the care of our patients. It’s been a privilege, and a great learning experience, to serve the community in this fashion.
One observation about my experiences is worth sharing publicly.
Many people with little or no formal ethical training seem to believe that because they have a personal sense of right from wrong, that they are therefore fully qualified to render complex opinions in authoritative manner on any question related to moral philosophy.
Some issues that arise in the practice of applied moral philosophy in the hospital space can be difficult to parse. Matters of autonomy, justice, beneficence — these aren’t simple subjects to think through, especially for those who have no background in thinking them through.
The degree of deference people will provide to a physician or a nurse is very real and very appropriate. The degree of deference people provide to those with a background in moral philosophy is practically nil. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? I’m not sure, but it seems to be a very real phenomenon.