, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 51-58

Gender in medical ethics: Re-examining the conceptual basis of empirical research

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Abstract

Conducting empirical research on gender in medical ethics is a challenge from a theoretical as well as a practical point of view. It still has to be clarified how gender aspects can be integrated without sustaining gender stereotypes. The developmental psychologist Carol Gilligan was among the first to question ethics from a gendered point of view. The notion of care introduced by her challenged conventional developmental psychology as well as moral philosophy. Gilligan was criticised, however, because her concept of ‘two different voices’ may reinforce gender stereotypes. Moreover, although Gilligan stressed relatedness, this is not reflected in her own empirical approach, which still focuses on individual moral reflection. Concepts from social psychology can help overcome both problems. Social categories like gender shape moral identity and moral decisions. If morality is understood as being lived through actions of persons in social relationships, gender becomes a helpful category of moral analysis. Our findings will provide a conceptual basis for the question how empirical research in medical ethics can successfully embrace a gendered perspective.

This revised version was published online in October 2005 with corrections to the Cover Date.