On the Development of Teachers of Medical Ethics in China

By Du, Zhizheng | The Hastings Center Report, July 2000 | Go to article overview

On the Development of Teachers of Medical Ethics in China


Du, Zhizheng, The Hastings Center Report


Despite a long history in China, medical ethics didn't become a popular course until the 1980s. At present, medical ethics is either a required or an optional course in most medical schools in China, but lack of qualified teachers is a conspicuous problem. As Tao Liu, who teaches medical ethics at Bao Tou Medical College in Inner Mongolia, has noted, "The problem of lack of qualified teachers worries us even more, as most teachers originally majored in philosophy, medicine, psychology, sociology, and law. There are even some teachers who were originally administrators who lacked much-needed knowledge. Of the current teaching faculty, few possess a comprehensive knowledge of medicine, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and law."[1] Ruguang Liu, vice president of Nanjing Health School, also remarked on this difficulty:

   Medical ethics in China, as a newborn frontier science, has no specialized
   professionals of its own, which results in the shortage of competent
   teachers in this field. People engaged in medical ethical education and
   research are those who have transferred from other fields. Quite a few
   teachers were asked to teach shortly after shifting from other fields, and
   it is not surprising that they are poorly educated [in terms of]
   professional knowledge and ethical theories.[2]

The development of medical ethics in China thus must place great emphasis on the training of teachers. In China as in the United States, teachers play a key role in the development and promotion of medical ethics. How competent the ethics teachers actually are reflects the status of the discipline in the whole country. We have every reason to do a better job in teacher training in medical ethics.

The Goals and Objectives of Faculty Development

Let us first define the goals and objectives of faculty development in medical ethics. What are the qualifications for these teachers and what goals should they pursue?

To answer these questions, we should first be aware of the current situation of medical ethics in China and know the challenges the profession is facing. Nowadays, with the progress in biological technology, medicine is troubled by many ethical problems that it has never faced before. Consequently, traditional medical ethics is also facing new challenges. As I have noted elsewhere,

   Although traditional medical ethics holds saving life to be its principle,
   the problems it encounters differ greatly from the problems of ethics
   caused by the advance of biology. Bioethics is not only simply a
   continuation of traditional medical ethics but also a challenge to
   traditional medical ethics.[3]

Every society faces the question of whether and how much to invest in a high technology but also high cost and often in-efficient health care system. These decisions are not only economic but also ethical, and bioethics increasingly focuses on distribution of health resources, the adaptability of advanced medical technology, and decisionmaking at times of conflict between intuition and ethical understanding.[4] Thus medical ethics has entered a new phase.

Medical ethics as a discipline has to carry out four tasks today:

(1) To portray outstanding doctors and to nurture humanitarianism in medical service--the tradition of medical ethics that continues to have its significance today.

(2) To pave the way for reasonable use of new medical technology. In recent decades, we have seen many breakthroughs in biology--the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953 gave birth to molecular biology, while the revelation of genetic codes and the realization of genetic engineering have made it possible to change the life course, to improve the quality of life, and to prevent many diseases. But the new wonders of biology must be evaluated as to whether they are ethically permissible. Literally speaking, bioethics is a bridge as well as a pioneer leading us to the medicine of the future. …

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