The limits of deontology in dental ethics education

International Journal of Ethics Education 1 (2):183-200 (2016)
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Most current dental ethics curricula use a deontological approach to biomedical and dental ethics that emphasizes adherence to duties and principles as properties that determine whether an act is ethical. But the actual ethical orientation of students is typically unknown. The purpose of the current study was to determine the ethical orientation of dental students in resolving clinical ethical dilemmas. First-year students from one school were invited to participate in an electronic survey that included eight vignettes featuring ethical conflicts common to the health care setting. The Multidimensional Ethics Scale was used to evaluate the students’ ethical judgments of these conflicts. Students rated each vignette along 13 ethically relevant items using a 7-point scale. Nine of the thirteen items were analyzed because they represent the dominant ethical theories, including deontology. One hundred sixteen dental students successfully completed the survey. Of the analyzed items, those associated with deontology had comparatively weak associations with whether students judged the action to be ethical and whether students judged themselves likely to perform the action. Whether an action was judged to be caring had the strongest association with whether the action was judged to be ethical and whether students judged themselves likely to perform the action. These results suggest that adherence to duties or principles has weaker association with students’ ethical judgments and behavior compared to caring, which was found to be more influential in their ethical judgments and behavior. Current dental school curricula with a primary focus on deontology may no

Author Profiles

Parker Crutchfield
Western Michigan University School Of Medicine
David Fleming
University of Missouri, Columbia


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