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Compassion as a basis for ethics in medical education
  1. Carlo Leget,
  2. Gert Olthuis
  1. Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
    ; g.olthuis{at}
  1. Carlo Leget, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine, 137 EFG, PO Box 9101, NL - 6500 HB Nijmegen; c.leget{at}


The idea that ethics is a matter of personal feeling is a dogma widespread among medical students. Because emotivism is firmly rooted in contemporary culture, the authors think that focusing on personal feeling can be an important point of departure for moral education. In this contribution, they clarify how personal feelings can be a solid basis for moral education by focusing on the analysis of compassion by the French phenomenologist Emmanuel Housset. This leads to three important issues regarding ethics education: (1) the necessity of a continuous attention for and interpretation of the meaning of language, (2) the importance of examining what aspect of “the other” touches one and what it is that evokes the urge to act morally and (3) the need to relate oneself to the community, both to the medical community and to collectively formulated rules and laws. These issues can have a place in medical education by means of an ethical portfolio that supports students in their moral development. First, keeping a portfolio will improve their expression of the moral dimension of medical practice. Second, the effects of self-knowledge and language mastery will limit the pitfalls of emotivism and ethical subjectivism and will stimulate the inclination to really encounter the other. Third, it will show medical students from the start that their moral responsibility is more than following rules and that they are involved personally.

  • compassion
  • ethics education
  • portfolio
  • emotions
  • phenomenology

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  • Competing interests: None.

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