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Brian Cox
  • Brian Cox
  • Cardiff By The Sea, CA
  • United States


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Should medical ethics be taught in medical school?

Over the course of the summer, I am embarking on a fairly comprehensive examination of medical ethics curriculum in the medical schools of the UK, Ireland, Canada, and America. I will be conducting focus groups and distributing surveys to understand how medical students view their competency in dealing with ethical issues, especially those encountered at the end-of-life.

I hope to use this information to make specific curriculum amendments that will allow future doctors to confidently manage terminally ill patients.

However, I need your help.

In order to make my study even more robust, I wish to garner as many perspectives as possible. Please contribute your opinions, your experiences, your attitudes and beliefs. Tell me how doctors deal with end-of-life issues: how they have managed your family and friends.

*The first comment gives a little background on the current state of medical ethics in the UK. It is an excerpt from my proposal earlier this year.


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  • Jul 11 2012: Hi, Brian. Yes, ethics should definitely be taught as part of medical school. I'm a professor of philosophy and ethics, and I'm currently pursuing a second degree specifically in bioethics. People often approach ethics with the attitude that studying it is of no real value. As someone who has spent the past 20 years doing just that, I can assure you that's not the case. Philosophy, and by extension ethics, is just like anything else - the more you do it, the better you become at it. Not all explanations are created equal.

    That being said, the current trends in spirituality and medicine (where spirituality isn't defined as exclusively "religious" but merely as whatever is at the core of one's source of meaning in life...family, appreciation of nature, altruistic acts, etc.) begin from the idea of treating patients as a person (i.e. a being with a set of beliefs, values, ideals, hopes, concerns, personality traits, etc.) rather than merely treating an illness or a symptom. Ethics is about how we weigh values, often in relation to a conflicting sense of duty. If we can consider such things in advance, it makes it easier to know what to look for, think about, and consider before we have to do so when we're interacting with people when it really matters. Two things I tell my own students at the beginning of every semester are that if we're going to even attempt to do philosophy well, we need to always keep in mind 1) make no assumptions (or as few as possible) and 2) just because you've heard something all your life doesn't make it true. Most of the students in my current graduate courses are medical students and my program is in the school of medicine, not philosophy; and they all the time make assuptions that philosophers wouldn't simply because of their background. If we combine the two disciplines, everyone benefits. Philosophers who attempt bioethics without any medical science are at an equal disadvantage as doctors who have no exposure to ethics.

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