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Bringing context into ethical discussion: what, when and who?
  1. Lucy Frith
  1. Centre for Social Ethics & Policy, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lucy Frith, Centre for Social Ethics & Policy, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK; lucy.frith{at}

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Arguably one of the strengths of the discipline of medical ethics is its close attention to the context in which ethical dilemmas, questions and issues play out. As a discipline that is concerned with helping and supporting practitioners, policy-makers and the public to address the ethical aspects of healthcare provision and practice in the best way they can, context is crucially important. As McMillian puts it, ‘ethics should be grounded’ in the practical realities of the situation.1 What, where and who are important questions that set the parameters of the debate and, to some extent, frame the subsequent solution or decision. What is happening in a particular case, what is the source of controversy, is it a conflict of values, regulations or professional viewpoints? Where does it take place, under which rules, jurisdiction or in which professional setting? And who does it involve? Whose rights, interests or decision-making capacity do we prioritise? All these contextual questions need to be carefully articulated before it is possible to draw any normative conclusions.

The importance of context is clear in this issue’s ‘Engagement without entanglement: a framework for non-sexual patient–physician boundaries’ by Appel.2 What might be seen as entirely appropriate behaviour in one context, for example, when I help out a friend and let them stay in my house for a few weeks while they recover from an operation, is entirely inappropriate in another—in …

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  • 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.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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