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Philosophical medical ethics: more necessary than ever
  1. Julian Savulescu1,2,
  2. Thomas Douglas1,
  3. Dominic Wilkinson1,3
  1. 1Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2Visiting Professorial Fellow in Biomedical Ethics, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia
  3. 3John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Julian Savulescu, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, 16/17 St Ebbe’s St, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK; julian.savulescu{at}

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When we applied for the editorship of the JME 7 years ago, we said that we considered the JME to be the most important journal in medicine. The most profound questions that health professionals face are not scientific or technical, but ethical. Our enormous scientific and medical progress already outstrips our capability (in personnel, time and physical resources) to provide treatment. Life can be prolonged at enormous cost, sometimes far beyond the point that the individual appears to be gaining a net benefit from that life. Science can tell us how to achieve something, but it cannot tell us whether we should achieve that end—whether it is good. For that, we need ethics.

Ethics grows in importance as our technology creates new possibilities. Where there are no options, there are no ethical questions. However, once there are options, there arise pressing questions about whether to pursue them. (To reverse an old aphorism, ‘can’ raises the question ‘ought we?’) We require values and principles to decide how to use medicine and science. During the last 7 years, issues like the creation of brain organoids, human non-human chimeras, mitochondrial transfer, gene editing of embryos and in vitro gametogenesis have grown in prominence. These raise deep questions about moral status and how it should be determined, the limits of modification of humans, and what is good in life.

As editors of the JME, we are proud of our small contribution to thinking about these challenges. We are grateful to the hard work of our associate editors and administrative staff, but there is still much more to do.

During our term as editors, we have published papers from diverse perspectives, on a wide range of topics. We have seen vigorous debate within the pages of the journal and have often sought to deliberately encourage that debate …

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  • Funding JS was supported by the Victorian Government’s Operational Infrastructure Support Program.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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