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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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  • Jun 28 2012: My own understanding(I am a Doctor myself) is that Medical ethics or any ethics can't be taught in medical schools... it's something that has to be inculcated since childhood... at home, in junior school, senior school, higher education.... and "life". All Doctors sign the "Hippocratic Oath" at the time of registration, but do most Doctors follow them?
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      Jul 5 2012: It's difficult to know whether ethics should be taught as apparently as math, english, and science, or whether it should "informally" be taught through experience and reflection. Surely we know right from wrong, but in the complicated world of medicine, it is sometimes not a question of what "can" we do, but what "should" we do? The Hippocratic Oath is a reflection of the ethical tenets, but it may not always govern our actions. "Doing no harm" can have many interpretations, unfortunately.
    • Jul 11 2012: Ethical theory can definitely be taught. I spend every day of the week doing it. The idea that something can't be taught simply because there are no strict answers, as one expects to find in sciences and other disciplines, is mistaken. Philosophy is about abstract critical thinking, not memorizing empirical facts. They're just two different ways to approach knowledge, and each has its own purpose, function, and merits. And ethics is always about what we ought to do, if you're talking about what we "can" do, then you're no longer talking about ethics. That's the difference between normative (evaluative) and non-normative (purely descriptive) statements. Ethical considerations are always normative, because they attempt to assess or evaluate. For example, one theory (often mistaken as an ethical theory) is psychological egoism, which simply states we observe that humans tend to act in self-serving ways. That's a purely descriptive statement, it doesn't attempt to prescribe anything. Its "sister" theory is ethical egoism, which states that if we do, in fact, observe people to behave as such, then people "ought" to do so, because they're simply acting on human nature. The latter of these two statements is normative, because it's prescribing what one ought to do...that's the realm of ethics.

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