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Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics

Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics (12th edn)

Anne-Maree Farrell and Edward S. Dove
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date: 25 April 2024

p. 11. Introduction to Bioethicslocked

p. 11. Introduction to Bioethicslocked

  • A. M. FarrellA. M. FarrellChair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh
  •  and E. S. DoveE. S. DoveReader in Health Law and Regulation at the University of Edinburgh


This chapter is the first of two in this textbook that focus on bioethics. This chapter introduces the aims, scope, and methods of the applied field of bioethics, and of the wider discipline of ethics in which it is located. It explains why (bio)ethical analysis is an essential companion to legal scholarship when it comes thinking about ‘what should be done’ in health and medical contexts. This chapter takes the first steps in equipping the reader with the tools to engage in bioethical debate. It indicates the kinds of language used in these debates. And it emphasises the importance of reason-giving and conceptual clarity. Expanding on the theme of reason-giving, it explores some the places we might look for relevant and persuasive grounds to support our ethical claims. In doing so it highlights important distinctions between ethical claims, on one hand, and empirical observations, personal preferences and intuitions, community norms, and popular opinions, on the other. It looks briefly at the role of principles in bioethics, and the value of identifying context-responsive principles and priorities rather than relying on prescribed frameworks. It closes by introducing the idea of ‘interests’ and suggesting that identifying whose interests are affected, and how, are important steps in developing and defending our responses to ethical dilemmas.

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