Friday, April 24, 2009

Judging Virtuously

Rosemary Flanigan
April 24, 2009

I am so lucky-I was invited this week to an ethics committee which was reviewing the Baby K case-remember, 1992, the anencephalic baby born in DC; the mother refused to give permission for a DNR order and the baby lived for 2 ½ yrs, going back to the hospital for ventilator support.

There were 7 of us there and an excellent analysis unfolded without a single reference to an ethical principle. The entire discussion hinged on virtue. I have always found that the argument from virtue is the most difficult to make.

Problem # 1: Before one has acquired virtue and is thereby able to judge virtuously by oneself (and thus be one's own ethical standard), one must following the guide of a person already virtuous.

And problem #2: in our culture it is oftentimes difficult to distinguish character traits that are virtues from those which are impressive because of certain contemporary cultural phenomena.

Oh, did I tell you that all 7 of us are female and 6 of them were mothers. I think that fact was important. There was careful weighing of the mother's feelings and desires over against what was best, in their argument, for Baby K.

Sensitive alternatives were proposed aimed towards respect for autonomy, beneficence and justice without those words being mentioned.

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