Editorial Observations

Article excerpt

On Sunday, July 8, 2001, about a dozen students of virtue ethics gathered in Athens, Greece, to explore, debate, discover, or rediscover the historical value and contemporary vitality of Aristotle and his philosophical progeny. This symposium, organized by Thomas (Tom) D. Lynch, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, and Charles Garofalo, Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA, consisted of three papers presented by Peter Cruise, California State University--Chico, Chico, California, USA, Victor Hilliard, Port Elizabeth Technikon, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and Anthony Makrydemetres, University of Athens. Each paper was followed by discussion, and then there followed several hours of wide-ranging discussion of virtue ethics today. Discussants included Cynthia Lynch, Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, Anne Byrd-Garofalo, a psychotherapist in private practice in Austin, Texas, USA, and Panos Liverakos, GlobalXPert, an Internet firm in Athens.

What follows is a first for on-line journals: a combination of commentary, audio, and video, that brings to you directly the essence and spirit of a very informative and lively conference. In order to view the four video segments, you need Real Player on your computer. If you do not have Real Player, you may download it at http://realplayer.com. You will find both free and fee software. Once the program is on your computer, and you have speakers plus a sound card, you should be able to access the four videos.

Papers

Peter Cruise presented the first paper, entitled "Virtue Ethics and Healthcare Accreditation: The End of Whistleblowing?" Peter points out that in its efforts to fight fraud and abuse in health care organizations, the federal government is relying increasingly on the False Claims Act and qui tam suits brought by whistleblowers. In Peter's view, this approach is dysfunctional both for the whistleblowers and for the organizations they target, and in place of this approach, he proposes enhanced standards and strong individual inner controls, informed by virtue ethics and used by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) during the accreditation process. Peter explains that the False Claims Act or the qui tam statute, passed by Congress during the American Civil War, permits private persons to bring cases on behalf of the United States and to share in the government's recovery. He also notes that qui tam is short for "qui tam pro domino rege quam pro seipse," meaning "he who as much for the king as for himself."

The central argument in Peter's paper is that the current system's focus on sanctions, penalties, and ultimately whistleblowing to uncover fraud and abuse after they occur requires whistleblowers to take extreme personal and professional risks to expose the fraud and abuse, does not protect the whistleblower from the harm that invariably occurs, and offers only the potential of a payoff to the whistleblower at some future date. He asserts as well that the federal government will continue to depend on qui tam suits and that health care organizations lack an articulated ethical climate. Therefore, only the JCAHO accreditation process offers any hope of an improved ethical climate that may protect the whistleblower or even mitigate the need for whistleblowing altogether. He concludes by calling for a reframing of the JCAHO accreditation standards, informed by virtue ethics.

Victor Hilliard's paper, "What South African Public Administration Can Learn from Aristotle's Virtue Ethics," argues that post-apartheid South African public administrators can draw some valuable lessons from the Greek philosophers, particularly Aristotle, as they try to find their proper place and purpose in a transformed public service. In Victor's view, the transition from a semi-military, authoritarian state to a constitutional democracy caught many South Africans off guard, and he believes that more than Codes of Conduct are needed. …