Defending Secular Clinical Ethics Expertise From an Engelhardt-Inspired Sense of Theoretical Crisis.
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics
The national standards for clinical ethics consultation set forth by the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) endorse an "ethics facilitation" approach, which characterizes the role of the ethicist as one skilled at facilitating consensus within the range of ethically acceptable options. To determine the range of ethically acceptable options, ASBH recommends the standard model of decision-making (informed consent, advance directives, surrogates, best interests), which is grounded in the values of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice. H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr. has sharply criticized the standard model for presuming contentful moral claims in circumscribing the range of ethically acceptable options, which, he argues, cannot be rationally justified in a pluralistic context. Engelhardt's solution is a secular clinical ethics based on a contentless principle of permission. The first part of this article lays out Engelhardt's negative claim, that reason cannot establish contentful moral claims, and his positive claim, that secular clinical ethics ought to be based on a contentless principle of permission. The second part critiques these negative and positive claims. The purpose of this paper is to defend secular clinical ethics expertise-defined as the ability of ethicists to offer justified moral recommendations grounded in consensus positions endorsed by the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities-from the radical critiques of Engelhardt, who argues that no moral or metaphysical claims, and hence no bioethical consensus, can be rationally justified. Engelhardt's critiques have caused some to worry that secular clinical ethics is in a state of theoretical crisis; this article concludes that Engelhardt's view is an unstable basis for that worry.
Brummett A. Defending secular clinical ethics expertise from an Engelhardt-inspired sense of theoretical crisis. Theor Med Bioeth. 2022 Feb;43(1):47-66. doi: 10.1007/s11017-022-09566-3. PMID: 35366754.