Doctors and Philosophers: Ethics in Practice

On Thursday, Dr. Bishop led a discussion for the Baylor Philosophy Club titled "Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying." Dr. Bishop is both a medical doctor and philosopher. As he discussed medical practices, he stated that medicine is integral to the good life. Moreover, he said that practicing medicine is a way of practicing ethics. Although the medical field is highly technical, it is also, at its basis, intensely human.

Currently, there is much debate about what constitutes healthcare and what sorts of obligations medical practitioners have to their patients. Abortion, euthanasia, and physician assisted suicide are some of the most controversial topics in the debate. These issues involve questions about what it means to be human, the nature of the good life, and whether death can be more appropriate than life in some cases. Doctors cannot answer these questions with merely technical knowledge. Medicine demands practical wisdom as well.

Debating ethics in the political arena or even in a classroom is very different from practicing ethics. Knowledge and practice are distinct, though action often requires knowledge. For doctors, ethics is not a body of speculative knowledge; it what one does on a daily basis. To some extent, this only exacerbates the divide between doctors who hold divergent views on these medical practices. But it also indicates that there is a very real need for people's sincerely held conviction to be respected. In order to do this, medical practitioners need to be able to determine what is good for their patients in particular cases. This means that medicine must be intensely personal. Without meaningful relationships between doctors and patients, the trust and respect required to navigate the complex problems involved in pursuing a patient's good cannot arise.