Normative Versus Consequential Ethics in Sexually Violent Predator Laws: An Ethics Conundrum for Psychiatry
Weinberger, Linda E
The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 2010; 38(3): 386-91
Nineteen states and the federal government have statutes for the civil commitment of sexually violent predators (SVP). The American Psychiatric Association has vigorously opposed SVP laws, citing the abuse of both individual civil rights and of psychiatry in forwarding preventive detention. Those who support the laws underscore that the statutes target highly dangerous sex offenders. There are two different approaches to understanding ethics-based problems and their solutions. The normative approach assumes that there is a universal, intuitive, abstract, correct answer to a given question. However, there is no universal right way to balance the important normative ethic of protecting individual rights with the equally important normative ethic of protecting public safety. A less universal approach, consequential ethics, becomes necessary when abstract normative values conflict and lead to opposing conclusions. In this commentary, we examine and attempt to resolve the conflicting positions raised by the SVP statutes by using consequential versus normative ethics.
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