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The ethical concept of medicine as a profession discovery or invention?
  1. Laurence B McCullough1,2
  1. 1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, Hempstead, New York, USA
  2. 2 Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Laurence B McCullough, 2524 Amur Drive, Baylor College of Medicine, Austin, TX 78745, USA; Laurence.McCullough{at}bcm.edu

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Introduction

Rosamond Rhodes makes a persuasive case for the view that medical ethics does not derive from common morality.1 Rhodes identifies the challenge that immediately arises and its corollary: Whence the origin of medical ethics? And, should we understand medical ethics as autonomous? From the perspective of professional ethics in medicine, the first question can now be restated: Whence the origin of the ethical concept of medicine as a profession, the basis of the ethical obligations of physicians in patient care, research, medical education, and in advocacy and healthcare policy?

The Ethical Concept of Medicine as a Profession as a Discovery

The history of Western philosophy offers us two pathways to address this question. The first is the quest for certainty,2 a quest fulfilled by using methods designed to discover concepts that are independent of human thought and judgement and thus intellectually and morally authoritative for everyone. Such concepts are timeless and therefore transcultural, transreligious and transnational. Examples include Plato’s Forms,3 PF Stawson’s (1919–2006) ‘our conceptual structure’,4 Edmund Pellegrino’s (1920–2003) ‘fact of illness’ and the ‘act of profession’ in response to the vulnerability that illness creates,5 and common morality.6 Thought experiments, using what Rhodes characterises as ‘the hypethetico-deductive method’,1 aim to discover timeless concepts.

Discovering timeless concepts must address their ontological and epistemological status. Plato’s ontology of Forms,2 for example, is not clear, as …

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