In a recent issue of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, several scholars wrote on the topic of ethics expertise in clinical ethics consultation. The articles in this issue exemplified what we consider to be two troubling trends in the quest to articulate a unique expertise for clinical ethicists. The first trend, exemplified in the work of Lisa Rasmussen, is an attempt to define a role for clinical ethicists that denies they have ethics expertise. Rasmussen cites the dependence of ethical expertise on irresolvable meta-ethical debates as the reason for this move. We argue against this deflationary strategy because it ends up smuggling in meta-ethical assumptions it claims to avoid. Specifically, we critique Rasmussen’s distinction between the ethical and normative features of clinical ethics cases. The second trend, exemplified in the work of Dien Ho, also attempts to avoid meta-ethics. However, unlike Rasmussen, Ho tries to articulate a notion of ethics expertise that does not rely upon meta-ethics. Specifically, we critique Ho’s attempts to explain how clinical ethicists can resolve moral disputes using what he calls the “Default Principle” and “arguments by parity.” We show that these strategies do not work unless those with the moral disagreement already share certain meta-ethical assumptions. Ultimately, we argue that the two trends of (1) attempting to avoid meta-ethics by denying that clinical ethicists have ethics expertise, and (2) attempting to articulate how ethics expertise can be used to resolve disputes without meta-ethics both fail because they do not, in fact, avoid doing meta-ethics. We conclude that these trends detract from what clinical ethics consultation was founded to do and ought to still be doing—provide moral guidance, which requires ethics expertise, and engagement with meta-ethics. To speak of ethicists without ethics expertise leaves their role in the clinic dangerously unclear and unjustified.
HEC Forum – Springer Journals
Published: Apr 18, 2017
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