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A Defence of medical ethics as uncommon morality
  1. Rosamond Rhodes
  1. Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rosamond Rhodes, Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY 10029, USA; Rosamond.Rhodes{at}

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I am grateful to the esteemed commentators for their critiques of my paper, ‘Why Not Common Morality’.1 As I read through their remarks, however, they seemed to be talking past my arguments. Their criticisms nevertheless make it clear that I need to explain myself better. I am therefore grateful to the editor for allowing me this opportunity to clarify my position.

My paper presented two arguments for concluding that common morality is untenable as an account of medical ethics. First, I provided a negative argument to show that common morality does not provide an adequate account of medical ethics. Second, I offered a positive argument that demonstrated why the medical professions require a distinct morality.

My negative argument relies on counterexamples to show that the duties of medicine are different from the duties of everyday life. It is intended as a refutation of the claim by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress that ‘The common morality is applicable to all persons in all places, and we rightly judge all human conduct by its standards’.2

Logically, if any of the duties of medical ethics are inconsistent with common morality, they are not compatible with common morality standards. My counterexamples demonstrate that standards of conduct judged acceptable by common morality are irreconcilable with duties of medical ethics. Hence, they could not follow from the same principles. If the standards of common morality lead to particular judgments about the morality of a certain conduct, those same standards cannot also be the basis for reaching the opposite judgments about that sort of conduct.

Charles Foster,3 Alex John London,4 Ruth Macklin5 and Bryanna Moore6 all suggest that exceptions to my examples refute my negative argument. As far as they go, …

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  • Contributors This reply to critics is entirely my work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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

  • Here I am supporting McCullough’s position that professional ethics is constructed rather than discovered.

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