An instrument to assess 'ethical sensitivity' has been developed. The instrument presents four clinical vignettes and the respondent is asked to list the ethical issues related to each vignette. The responses are classified, post hoc, into the domains of autonomy, beneficence and justice. This instrument was used in 1990 to assess the ethical sensitivity of students in all four medical classes at the University of Toronto. Ethical sensitivity, as measured by this instrument, is not related to age or grade-point average. Sensitivity increases between the 1st and 2nd year and then decreases throughout the rest of undergraduate medical training, such that the 4th-year students identify fewer issues than those entering medical school. Students expressing a career choice of family medicine identify more issues than their peers. Several problems with the use of the instrument and the interpretation of the data were found. Nonetheless, these findings, if reproducible, are important and their meaning needs further discussion.
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