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Religion, reason, controversies and perspectives in clinical and research ethics
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  1. Kenneth Boyd, Associate Editor

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“This correspondence is now closed”: but in medical ethics the traditional editorial fiat is often less easy to issue. The quality of argument and counter-argument demonstrated by so many contributors to the Journal of Medical Ethics illustrates not so much that they are undefeated because they have gone on trying, but the existential importance, for them and for many of their readers, of the complex questions they attempt to articulate and clarify. This is well illustrated in the current issue of the journal by papers which both contribute to existing ethical debates and open up new perspectives.

Among those contributing to existing ethical debates, three involve lively exchanges between different contributors. In a paper published first online in April 2014 and subsequently in the March 2015 issue, the Oxford theologian Nigel Biggar argued that “religion deserves a place in secular medicine”: “secular medicine”, he suggested, “should be understood… not as a space that is universally rational because it is religion-free, but as a forum for the negotiation of rival reasonings”, including those of religion, always provided they avoid “appeals to religious authorities” and adopt “reasonable means of persuasion”.1 Biggar's paper quickly attracted critical commentaries, albeit from widely different philosophical premises: three of these are published in this issue, together with Biggar's response. Two commentaries, by Kevin Smith (see page 867) and Xavier Symons (see page 870), take issue with Biggar from the standpoint of their respective author's interpretation of Utilitarianism (Smith) and Natural Law Theory (Symons). While it is clear to Smith “that the flawed empirical basis, lack of rationality and non-universality inherent in religion disqualify it from ethical discourse”, it is equally …

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