A Confucian Perspective on Bioethical Principles in Ethics Consultation
Tai, Michael Cheng-tek
Clinical Ethics 2007 December; 2(4): 201-207
With the rapid development of biotechnology, the physician is now more able to keep a patient's life going indefinitely on a life support system. The question of whether we should switch off the machine often arises when, according to the medical prognosis, there is no hope of recovery, or in a no-win situation where you are 'damned if you do and damned if you don't'. In a case which seems without hope, the dilemma of whether to prolong a life or let it go disturbs many people, including health professionals as well as the family of the patient. In this painful situation, an ethics consultant who has received intensive training can help the concerned parties to arrive at what may be the best decision. How do Asians, especially those living in countries influenced by Confucian teachings, reach their answers? Three aspects are usually considered: (1) motivation and situation; (2) reasonableness and propriety; and (3) lawfulness and legality. More specifically, three questions are deliberated, as follows. (1) Where an action has already been taken, what motivated it and in what situation? Or, where a decision has still to be made, what should motivate it, and what are the relevant features of the situation? (2) Was the attempted resolution of the dilemma, or is its prospective resolution, reasonable and in accordance with traditional principles of ethical behaviour? (3) Was the action taken lawful, or would the intended action be lawful? This approach to finding an answer has been practised for centuries in Confucian society. But what is legal may not always be reasonable, what is reasonable may not always be compassionate, and what is compassionate may not always be either legal or reasonable. Principles to guide decision-making are therefore called for. This article, written by Michael Cheng-tek Tai in collaboration with Donald Hill, discusses the Confucian method of solving a problem and examines its principal features and how they are applied in ethics consultations. The article is followed by a series of questions and answers and a commentary by Donald Hill.
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