Affirming the Existence and Legitimacy of Secular Bioethical Consensus, and Rejecting Engelhardt's Alternative: A Reply to Nick Colgrove and Kelly Kate Evans.

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HEC forum : an interdisciplinary journal on hospitals' ethical and legal issues


One of the most significant and persistent debates in secular clinical ethics is the question of ethics expertise, which asks whether ethicists can make justified moral recommendations in active patient cases. A critical point of contention in the ethics expertise debate is whether there is, in fact, a bioethical consensus upon which secular ethicists can ground their recommendations and whether there is, in principle, a way of justifying such a consensus in a morally pluralistic context. In a series of recent articles in this journal, Janet Malek defends a positive view of ethics expertise, claiming that secular ethicists should comport their recommendations with bioethical consensus. In response, Nick Colgrove and Kelly Kate Evans deny the existence of a secular bioethical consensus; question why, even if it did exist, consensus should be considered a reliable way of resolving bioethical questions; and recommend a friendlier approach to clinical ethics based on the thought of H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr. In this article, I respond to Colgrove and Evans on all three points. In part one, I show there is a secular bioethical consensus but note it could be better consolidated and created through a more systematic and inclusive process. In part two, I argue that bioethical consensus is morally justified but note that this justification cannot be plausibly based upon claims that it only invokes moral principles available to or shared by all. In part three, I argue Engelhardt's approach cannot be described as "friendlier" to clinical ethics because it is incompatible with many current healthcare laws and policies.





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