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Common morality and medical ethics: not so different after all
  1. Ruth Macklin
  1. Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Ruth Macklin, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA; ruth.macklin{at}einstein.yu.edu

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Rhodes seeks to defend her ‘conclusion that everyday ethics and medical ethics [are] incompatible’.1 She challenges ‘views that medical ethics is nothing more than common morality applied to clinical matters’ (Rhodes, p2).1 Beauchamp and Childress explicate the term ‘common morality’ at length.2 Nowhere do they claim that medical ethics is ‘nothing more than common morality applied to clinical matters’. Here is what they do say: “The origin of the norms of the common morality is no different in principle from the origin of the norms of a particular morality for a medical or other profession … The primary difference is that the common morality has authority in all communities, whereas particular moralities are authoritative only for specific groups” (Beauchamp and Childress, p8).2

This critique discusses the seven examples Rhodes uses to illustrate her main point: that common morality and medical ethics are radically different. I contend that common morality accounts for the purported differences she cites.

Example 1

In ordinary life, people can simply mind their own business, whereas physicians have a duty to act in their professional setting. On this view, common morality cannot explain the moral obligation people have to prevent easily avoidable harm to others. A bystander …

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