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Keywords:

  • clinical ethics;
  • conflict;
  • context;
  • public health;
  • rigor;
  • virtue ethics

Abstract

As bioethicists increasingly turn their attention to the profession of public health, many candidate frameworks have been proposed, often with an eye toward articulating the values and foundational concepts that distinguish this practice from curative clinical medicine. First, I will argue that while these suggestions for a distinct ethics of public health are promising, they arise from problems within contemporary bioethics that must be taken into account. Without such cognizance of the impetus for public health ethics, we risk developing a set of ethical resources meant exclusively for public health professionals, thereby neglecting implications for curative medical ethics and the practice of bioethics more broadly. Second, I will present reasons for thinking some of the critiques of dominant contemporary bioethics can be met by a virtue ethics approach. I present a virtue ethics response to criticisms that concern (1) increased rigor in bioethics discourse; (2) the ability of normative theory to accommodate context; and (3) explicit attention to the nature of ethical conflict. I conclude that a virtue ethics approach is a viable avenue for further inquiry, one that leads us away from developing ethics of public health in a vacuum and has the potential for overcoming certain pitfalls of contemporary bioethics discourse.