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Good medical ethics
  1. John McMillan
  1. Correspondence to Professor John McMillan, Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand; john.r.mcmillan68{at}

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The first editorial in the Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) described an ambition to be a ‘forum for the reasoned discussion of moral issues arising from the provision of medical care’.1 While that statement of intent might seem broad, it is one that has been reaffirmed by successive editors of the journal.2–4 It is an aim that aligns with the mission statement of JME and The Institute of Medical Ethics, to promote ‘ethical reflection and conduct in scientific research and medical conduct.’

It is an end worthy of some reflection because it illuminates how the journal has developed and implies a conception of what good medical ethics is.

During his time as editor, Raanan Gillon was a champion for philosophical medical ethics and he wrote an excellent and influential book on that topic.5 In the July issue of JME, Julian Savulescu, Tom Douglas and Dominic Wilkinson affirm the importance of philosophical medical ethics and ably demonstrate why it matters in the Charlie Gard case.6 Does that mean papers published in the JME must be philosophical? In one sense, clearly no and in another yes.

Good medical ethics is not philosophy. The degree of scepticism, the narrow focus on a search for truth, the technical nature of some philosophy and it not needing to deliver normative or practical ethical conclusions mean that a narrowly philosophical approach is unlikely to be good medical ethics. JME has never been a narrowly philosophical journal and the perils of this were described well by its first editor:

We therefore intend to put editorial weight behind what we consider to be carefully argued and well informed judgments and not to allow every value …

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