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Medical Ethics' Assault on Medical Values

Kenneth R. Howe
JAMA. 1984;251(21):2792. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340450019009.
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To the Editor.—  The criticism of medical ethics recently offered by Clements and Sider echoes that offered by Cheryl Nobel.1 The general point is argued again that the dominant approach to medical ethics—in which solutions to medical-ethical problems are obtained by employing the tools of traditional philosophical ethics—is untenable, chiefly because it is "formal" (according to Clements and Sider) or "acontextual" (according to Nobel).Generally speaking, the authors strike me as philosophically muddled and aiming their arguments at strawmen, but others have made these points well.2-4 An issue that has been overlooked to this point is the clearly empirical claim that is made on behalf of physicians—that medical ethics is of "dubious value" to them.The evidence I have collected as the evaluator of Michigan State's Medical Humanities Program in connection with hospital-based ethics conferences, self-standing courses, integrated course materials, and other activities disconfirms this claim, with respect


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