Virtuous acts as practical medical ethics: an empirical study
Article first published online: 4 AUG 2011
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Special Issue: Philosophy of Evidence Based Medicine
Volume 17, Issue 5, pages 948–953, October 2011
How to Cite
Little, M., Gordon, J., Markham, P., Rychetnik, L. and Kerridge, I. (2011), Virtuous acts as practical medical ethics: an empirical study. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 17: 948–953. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2011.01730.x
- Issue published online: 23 SEP 2011
- Article first published online: 4 AUG 2011
- Accepted for publication: 14 June 2011
- empirical ethics;
- medical practice;
- qualitative research;
- virtue ethics
Rationale, aims and objectives To examine the nature, scope and significance of virtues in the biographies of medical practitioners and to determine what kind of virtues are at play in their ethical behaviour and reflection.
Methods A case study involving 19 medical practitioners associated with the Sydney Medical School, using semi-structured narrative interviews. Narrative data were analysed using dialectical empiricism, constant comparison and iterative reformulation of research questions.
Results Participants represented virtuous acts as centrally important in their moral assessments of both themselves and others. Acts appeared to be contextually virtuous, rather than expressions of stable character traits, and virtue was linked to acts that served to protect or enhance fundamental values attached to ontological security and human flourishing. Virtue ethics, in this sense, was the single most important ethical system for each of the participants.
Conclusion Virtue ethics, construed as the appraisal of acts in contexts of risk, danger or threat to foundational values, emerged as the ‘natural’ ethical approach for medical practitioners in this case study. Teaching medical ethics to students and graduates alike needs to accommodate the priority attached to virtuous acts.