The Journal of Clinical Ethics



Joseph J. Fins, “On the Lingua Franca of Clinical Ethics,” The Journal of Clinical Ethics 24, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 323-31.




      In this 25-year retrospective on the state of clinical ethics, and the anniversary of the founding of The Journal of Clinical Ethics, the author comments on the state of the field. He argues that the language of bioethics, as used in practice, seems dated and out of touch with a clinical reality marked by emerging technologies and the advent of new fields like palliative medicine.

      Reflecting on his experiences as a clinician and clinical ethicist, the author worries about the emergence of a shallow bioethics, which is the product of a lingua franca. This linguistic amalgam is a weak composite in which concepts are simplified and nuance is overlooked, leading to interpretative errors. The best of ethical reasoning or clinical decision making can be lost in translation. Instead of the well-worn arguments over the relative worth of modes of ethical analysis, like principlism or pragmatism, the author argues that the emphasis should be on the cultivation of the “linguistic” skills necessary for translating any critical method in order to replace the lingua franca of clinical ethics with a more substantial  discourse worthy of the complexity of the clinic. Through the emergence of such a shared language, at the interface of the sciences and the humanities, this multidisciplinary field can evolve towards more authentic interdisciplinarity.




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