Thieves of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine

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The 'moral philosophy' that the ethics was to engage was empty from the start of anything that might bear on the human condition, 'human flourishing,' or even simple justice p.

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Thieves of Virtue is about bioethics, a "demi-discipline" begun in the 's by medical amateurs skilled in moral philosophy who insisted they had the philosophical chops to provide ethical answers to issues of medical practice, research, and health delivery. In fact, the book argues, the new ethic spoke not to complex social issues, or to medicine.

Its purpose from the start was to be a cheerleader and supporter of a slew of neoliberal agendas, Reaganomics in particular.

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As "guests in the house of medicine," as one bioethicist put it in another quote, from the start bioethics was about money and power. First and foremost, bioethics is about the lifeboat ethics. And if lifeboat ethics sinks then bioethics drowns with it.

Thieves of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine

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Your points will be added to your account once your order is shipped. Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! Bioethics emerged in the s from a conviction that physicians and researchers needed the guidance of philosophers in handling the issues raised by technological advances in medicine. It blossomed as a response to the perceived doctor-knows-best paternalism of the traditional medical ethic and today plays a critical role in health policies and treatment decisions.

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Bioethics claimed to offer a set of generally applicable, universally accepted guidelines that would simplify complex situations. In Thieves of Virtue , Tom Koch argues that bioethics has failed to deliver on its promises.

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Instead, he argues, bioethics has promoted a view of medicine as a commodity whose delivery is predicated not on care but on economic efficiency. Koch questions the "founding myths" of bioethics by which moral philosophers became practical ethicists who served as adjudicators of medical practice and planning. High philosophy, he argues, does not provide a guide to the practical dilemmas that arise at the bedside of sick patients.


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Nobody, he writes, carries Kant to a clinical consult. It is a digest so inadequate that it carries no understanding of the theory and its connection to the practical realms of clinical ethics, research ethics, public health ethics, and health policy. Koch makes the book into whatever serves his interests in his sweeping dismissal of bioethics. This view ignores much of what has happened in bioethics.

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Major contributors to the history of theory in bioethics such as Alasdair Campbell and Edmund Pellegrino have spent significant parts of their careers writing on virtue theory and its connection to the values of traditional medical ethics. Pellegrino also engaged in the defense of general principles especially beneficence in medical ethics and their connection to the traditional medical virtues.

Koch asserts that principlist theory neglects traditional virtue theory and instead substitutes principles as the prominent signposts in the landscape of the evaluative commitments of bioethics xvii—xix, —47, — This too is a misunderstanding of principlist theory, which has had a strong commitment to virtue theory and moral character since the first edition of Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Over the years of its seven editions, the book has continued to elaborate and deepen its commitment to virtue theory and the traditional virtues in medical ethics as well as virtues that had been neglected, such as truthfulness with patients.


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