Moral Normative Force and Clinical Ethics Expertise

American Journal of Bioethics 19 (11):89-91 (2019)
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Abstract
Brummett and Salter propose a useful and timely taxonomy of clinical ethics expertise (2019). As the field becomes further “professionalized” this taxonomy is important, and the core of it is right. It needs some refinement around the edges, however. In their conclusion, Brummett and Salter rightly point out that there is a significant difference between the ethicist whose recommendations are procedure- and process-heavy, consensus-driven, and dialogical and the authoritarian ethicist whose recommendations flow from “private moral views” (Brummett and Salter, 2019). This admission doesn’t go far enough. Brummett and Salter’s taxonomy fails to capture the notion that offering recommendations whose normative force is moral is different in kind from recommendations whose normative force is non-moral, such as those recommendations that are free of moral content or justified by convention. The difference is in kind, not scale. I argue further that clinical ethics expertise, if possible, consists at least in offering recommendations whose normative force is moral. These two claims imply that the taxonomy fails to cut clinical ethics expertise at the joints: the ethicist who offers justified non-moral normative recommendations is a different kind of ethicist from the one who offers justified moral normative recommendations, yet both are categorized as clinical ethics experts. I finish by offering a refinement of the taxonomy that more precisely categorizes clinical ethicists.
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First archival date: 2019-09-13
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2019-09-13

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