Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 91–100

Anti-theory in action? Planning for pandemics, triage and ICU or: how not to bite a bullet

Scientific Contribution

DOI: 10.1007/s11019-010-9289-5

Cite this article as:
Emmerich, N. Med Health Care and Philos (2011) 14: 91. doi:10.1007/s11019-010-9289-5


Anti-theory is a multi-faceted critique of moral theory which, it appears, is undergoing something of reassessment. In a recent paper Hämäläinen discusses the relevance of an anti-theoretical perspective for the activity of applied ethics. This paper explores her view of anti-theory. In particular I examine its relevance for understanding the formal guidance on pandemic flu planning issues by the Department of Health (DoH) in the UK and some subsequent discussions around triage and reverse triage decisions which may be considered by both Primary and Secondary Care Trusts (PCTs and SCTs) (On the division between Primary and Secondary Care Trusts in the UK National Health Service see: [Accessed August 2010]). in setting their own policies and which may face clinicians in the eventuality of a pandemic. Following Hämäläinen in contrasting reflective equilibrium with her anti-theory inspired suggestion of an instrumental approach to moral theory in practice I demonstrate how this understanding complements the diversity of our intuitive moral judgements. Consequentially I suggest that this anti-theoretical instrumental approach is in greater accord with the conditions under which such policy planning and decision making is, or will be, made. Furthermore, on the grounds of keeping open the ethical dimensions of medical practice in conditions of uncertainty, i.e. during a pandemic, I suggest that the anti-theoretical instrumental perspective is, ethically, the preferable approach to producing such policies and guidelines.


Ethics Anti-theory Pandemic flu planning Triage 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social WorkQueen’s University BelfastBelfastNorthern Ireland,UK

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