ABSTRACT

This essay is a critique of medical/clinical ethics from the personal perspective of a medical historian in an academic health science centre who has interacted with ethicists. It calls for greater transparency and accountability of ethicists involved in ‘bedside consulting;’ it questions the wisdom of the four principles of biomedical ethics (the ‘Georgetown mantra’) and their American cultural origins with respect to training; challenges the authority of ‘core competencies’ for ethicists as identified by the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities; and muses over the apparent reintroduction of religion into clinical medicine through the medium of bioethics. This essay is designed to provoke reflection on the putative ‘professionalism’ of the consulting ethics enterprise for which educational baselines and curricula are not standardized. By analysing sources such as the professional material communicated by the Canadian Bioethics Society, it also critiques the collective ethical shortcomings and confusions of those who style themselves medical ethics practitioners – the culmination of which, it is argued, has been the recent decision by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research not to appoint a medical ethicist in charge of its ethics portfolio.