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As Tony Hope put it in an editorial for this journal 14 years ago, ‘Philosophical medical ethics is the parent of empirical medical ethics’.1 One the one hand, this means that philosophical ethics came before the empirical field, but more importantly it means that good progress on the theoretical side of things is constantly generating new questions for empirical work to answer. For example, once we have determined that public concern is one of the main barriers to post-mortem autopsies, we might wish for evidence regarding how real members of the public feels about the practice (see page 735). If we have a strong analytic argument about whether medication should continue after the end of a clinical trial, we might wonder what the opinions are of those who are actually involved with this question in the real world (see page 757). These empirical studies can in turn break philosophical roadblocks, allowing us to make progress on the ethics with full understanding of clinical realities and the preferences of stakeholders.
In this month's issue of the Journal we see an unusual wealth of empirical papers, both qualitative and quantitative, perhaps demonstrating that the discipline of empirical ethics has now come of age.
As an editorial team we try to strike a balance between the theoretical and empirical dimensions of medical ethics, as both sides have become crucial aspects of medical ethics discourse. However, at present we are developing a number of special issues, each focused on one particular medical theme. We expect these forthcoming themed issues to be substantially filled with philosophical analysis, and so we in order to retain balance between the two domains, we will also often find ourselves with issues that have a strong empirical flavour, like this month's issue.
In this month's Feature Article, Abortion and Regret …
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