The American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities (ASBH) issued its Core Competencies for Health Care Ethics Consultation just as it is becoming ever clearer that secular ethics is intractably plural and without foundations in any reality that is not a social–historical construction (ASBH Core Competencies for Health Care Ethics Consultation, 2nd edn. American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, Glenview, IL, 2011). Core Competencies fails to recognize that the ethics of health care ethics consultants is not ethics in the usual sense of a morally canonical ethics. Its ethics is the ethics established at law and in enforceable health care public policy in a particular jurisdiction. Its normativity is a legal normativity, so that the wrongness of violating this ethics is simply the legal penalties involved and the likelihood of their being imposed. That the ethics of ethics consultation is that ethics legally established accounts for the circumstance that the major role of hospital ethics consultants is as quasi-lawyers giving legal advice, aiding in risk management, and engaging in mediation. It also indicates why this collage of roles has succeeded so well. This article shows how moral philosophy as it was reborn in the 13th century West led to the ethics of modernity and then finally to the ethics of hospital ethics consultation. It provides a brief history of the emergence of an ethics that is after morality. Against this background, the significance of Core Competencies must be critically reconsidered.
Bioethics Clinical ethics Hospital ethics consultants Post-modernity Moral pluralism