What is medical ethics?

Medical ethics is an interdisciplinary teaching- and research-subject that empirically and analytically studies ethical aspects of health care and medical research. It is thus an area within applied ethics.

In medical ethics, basic ethical theories and principles are used to analyze and answer ethical questions that arise in the practice of healthcare and medical research. Empirical research is also used to obtain information of ethical relevance.

Medical ethics is taught at a number of undergraduate and graduate programs at Karolinska Institutet. Medical research ethics is also a compulsory subject for everyone who is a postgraduate student at KI.

Examples of issues in health care ethics

• How and on what grounds should priority setting be done in health care?
• How important is it for the patient to have a say about their own care - and why?
• Should doctors always save lives in the first place - or can, for example, physician-assisted suicide be an acceptable alternative in some situations?
• Should healthcare professionals refuse to provide care and treatment if it goes against their own values?
• Is it justifiable for publicly funded healthcare to include new, extremely expensive treatments?

Examples of questions in medical research ethics

• What is good research practice and what constitute unacceptable deviations?
• How can good research practice be promoted?
• How should the respective responsibilities be handled between collaborating researchers if research fraud or deviations are discovered?
• Why is informed consent important - and why can one still approve research that is not preceded by informed consent from the researchers?
• How should co-authorship of scientific articles be managed in an ethically defensible way?

Advice on literature

Medicinska etikens ABZ (link to free download, in Swedish)
Medicine and philosophy. A twenty-first century introduction (link to free download)
Beauchamp T, Childress JF, Principles of Biomedical Ethics. 8 ed. Oxford University Press, 2019
Helgesson G. Forskningsetik. Second edition. Studentlitteratur, 2015
Helgesson G, Kvist T. Tandvårdens etik. Second edition, Gothia Kompetens, 2020
Hope T. Medical ethics. A very short introduction. Oxford University Press, 2019


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