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Enriching Our Views on Clinical Ethics: Results of a Qualitative Study of the Moral Psychology of Healthcare Ethics Committee Members


The contribution of healthcare ethics committee (HEC) members to HECs is fundamental. However, little is known about how HEC members view clinical ethics. We report results from a qualitative study of the moral psychology of HEC members. We found that contrary to the existing Kohlberg-based studies, HEC members hold a pragmatic non-expert view of clinical ethics based mainly on respect for persons and a commitment to the patient’s good. In general, HEC members hold deflationary views regarding moral theory. Ethical principles are not abstract foundations but the expression of moral commitments to patients that pre-exist awareness of moral theory. Emotions and proximity to patient sufferance fundamentally shape the views of HEC members on clinical ethics. Further work at the intersection of clinical ethics and qualitative research could bring to the foreground lay perspectives on moral problems that may differ from bioethics expert views.

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Special thanks go to Dr. Hubert Doucet, Ph.D., Director, Jennifer Singh, Paula Bailey and Marie-Josée Dion for helpful comments. This work was made possible by a research scholarship from the Fonds pour la formation de chercheurs et l’aide à la recherche. Revision of the manuscript was made possible by support of the Fonds québécois pour la recherche sur la science et la culture, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the NIH/NINDS (RO1 #NS 045831, Judy Illes, P.I.). I am independent of the Fonds pour la formation de chercheurs et l’aide à la recherche, the Fonds québécois pour la recherche sur la science et la culture, the Social sciences and humanities research council of Canada and the National Institutes of Health.

Conflict of Interest Statement

I have no competing interests.

Details of Ethics Approval (or a Statement that It was not Required)

Ethics approval for all participating institutions (N = 7) was obtained as detailed in the methods section. No patients were involved in the study.

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Correspondence to Eric Racine.

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Racine, E. Enriching Our Views on Clinical Ethics: Results of a Qualitative Study of the Moral Psychology of Healthcare Ethics Committee Members. Bioethical Inquiry 5, 57 (2008).

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  • Healthcare ethics committee
  • Moral psychology
  • Pragmatism
  • Clinical ethics
  • Healthcare ethics committee members