At some point, I know I will want to talk about ethics in medicine, so I should do some groundwork. There are lots of hot topics in medical ethics: euthanasia, abortion, narrative ethics, patient-centred care, etc. Often, though, people tend to refer to four principles of medical ethics. These were proposed by Beauchamp and Childress in their book Principles of Biomedical Ethics:
These are not particularly esoteric terms—I’m pretty sure that most people have heard of “Justice,” anyway. Still, I’ll give them a quick run-down. Autonomy means that people have freedom to choose what they want to do. Beneficence means doing good. Non-maleficence means not doing harm. Justice means fairness among all people.
I’ve simplified these terms, maybe too much. Still, I think that having even a fuzzy idea of what these words sort-of mean is good enough for a start. And I have not actually read Principles of Biomedical Ethics, so how could I know how to deal with these terms.
Funnily enough, I almost have a philosophy degree. Almost. I completed a degree at the University of Alberta in 2010, majoring in biological sciences, and minoring in—er—Latin.
I had a strange undergrad. It started med-student typical enough; I started heavy in biology and physics and chemistry and biochemistry, but by second year I needed some arts credits. So, I said to myself “Marie, you’re really good at languages. Pick a dead one and do some classes in it to get this out of the way.” Ergo lingua Latina.
Sadly, I loved it, and at the last moment declared it my minor, which meant I needed arts credits again. Oh, darn. So I also took a load of philosophy courses; philosophy of biology, science, religion, existentialism… I would have made it my minor instead of Latin, except that I ran out of time and graduated.
Fortunately, and this is the second most fortunate event of my life so far, I was not accepted into medical school for the fall of 2010. As such, I embarked on an after degree, to get a B.A. in philosophy with a minor in religious studies.
Somewhat sadly, I didn’t finish this degree. Instead, I was accepted into medicine at the U of A for the fall of 2011. That means I had one wonderful year of epistemology, Aristotle, hagiography, and, yes, ethics.
Which is why I feel kind of okay, at least for now, with a basic “here’s what these words mean.” I know I’ll get back to them properly.