Ethical Foundations of Health Care: Responsibilities in Decision Making

By Jane Singleton; Susan McLaren | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
3
What critical ethics can achieve

'The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth.' 1


3.1 CAN ETHICAL POSITIONS BE PROVED?

Before examining the application of consequentialist and deontological approaches to ethical issues in health care, it is worth examining in more detail a point raised in Chapter 1. There we argued that a knowledge of the ethical codes governing practice was not sufficient for the solution of all the ethical problems encountered in health care. A critical ethical approach was needed which would examine the principles that were being implicitly or explicitly used in ethical discussions and consider what justification could be given for them. This claim might be taken to imply that it is possible to prove that certain ethical standards are correct and others are wrong in the sense that the flat earth theory would now generally be considered to be wrong. However, the adoption of a critical ethical approach to these issues does not assume that certain ethical positions are capable of being proved to be right and that others can be shown to be wrong. Some ethical theories do incorporate this claim but others do not.

It might be argued at this point that if an ethical theory does not prove that one position is right and another wrong then there is no point in adopting a critical ethical approach. After all, if it is just a matter of opinion which position is right, why do we need to examine these different theories? If it is ultimately up to us to decide what is right and this is quite compatible with someone else disagreeing, why do we

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