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J Med Ethics 30:166-170 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.007153
  • Symposium on evidence based medicine

Coordinating the norms and values of medical research, medical practice and patient worlds—the ethics of evidence based medicine in orphaned fields of medicine

  1. R Vos1,
  2. D Willems2,
  3. R Houtepen1
  1. 1Health Ethics and Philosophy, Department of Health Care Studies, University of Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  2. 2Medical Ethics, Department of General Practice, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to:
 R Vos
 Health Ethics and Philosophy, Department of Health Care Studies, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Maastricht, PO Box 616, 6200 Maastricht, The Netherlands; Rein.VosZW.unimaas.nl
  • Received 21 November 2003
  • Accepted 27 November 2003

Abstract

Evidence based medicine is rightly at the core of current medicine. If patients and society put trust in medical professional competency, and on the basis of that competency delegate all kinds of responsibilities to the medical profession, medical professionals had better make sure their competency is state of the art medical science. What goes for the ethics of clinical trials goes for the ethics of medicine as a whole: anything that is scientifically doubtful is, other things being equal, ethically unacceptable. This particularly applies to so called orphaned fields of medicine, those areas where medical research is weak and diverse, where financial incentives are lacking, and where the evidence regarding the aetiology and treatment of disease is much less clear than in laboratory and hospital based medicine. Examples of such orphaned fields are physiotherapy, psychotherapy, medical psychology, and occupational health, which investigate complex syndromes such as RSI, whiplash, chronic low back pain, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

It appears that the primary ethical problem in this context is the lack of attention to the orphaned fields. Although we agree that this issue deserves more attention as a matter of potential injustice, we want to argue that, in order to do justice to the interplay of heterogeneous factors that is so typical of the orphaned fields, other ethical models than justice are required. We propose the coordination model as a window through which to view the important ethical issues which relate to the communication and interaction of scientists, health care workers, and patients.

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