Friday, June 25, 2010

Not Enough to Exercise Conscience

Rosemary Flanigan
June 25, 2010

Just as I was reading a short squib on conscience by one of my favorite philosophers, John Kavanaugh from St. Louis University, my colleague John Carney sent out a comment he found on the net that troubled me.

First, Kavanaugh on conscience—“a particular kind of judgment—a moral judgment—by which we apply our knowledge of good and evil to practical action.”

Of course. It’s what we can’t help doing thousands of times a day: making moral judgments about what we read, hear, see. Without those judgments, of course, there could be no ethical reflection because they serve as the “meat” for analysis.

But it’s not enough that we exercise our conscience; we also have to be sure it’s “informed” properly. And that means evidence, information and data. (Just because your conscience is certain doesn’t mean it’s correct!)

Now, jump with me to John’s reading this remark on the net this morning from another online ethics discussion group. A Yale emergency medicine chief said, “Ethics consults are exceedingly rare as the consultation process is typically deemed to be too burdensome and bureaucratic in order to be functional—hell, we can’t even get a plastic surgeon to come in a timely fashion, let alone an ethics consultation.”

See where I’m going? Of late, whenever I use a case in ethics brown bag sessions, I start out asking people to tell the group their initial moral judgment—and we go on from there. How many times we have changed our own minds as we gather evidence, information and data.

So must it be for an ethics committee. Sorry, Yale ER medicine man, we ethics committee members ought to respond fast, get to where you want us to be, but then we can’t proceed at the breakneck speed that medical trauma decisions must be made.

It’s just a different kettle of fish. ANYONE DISAGREE???



Anonymous Dan Fugate said...

Sister Flanigan,

I believe that Kaganaugh's definition of conscience is well thought. Thank you for posting it. I don't believe that I have ever actually put any thought into describing conscience but Kavanaugh's 20 words are succinct and a thorough representation of this intangible concept.

You imply that by making thousands of daily moral judgments we strengthen and broaden our ethical perspective by providing a base for comparative analysis. We all are guilty, more than we'd like to admit, of passing judgment on a person or situation without having all of the facts. We learn from an early age that we must be quick to think and respond; there will be time to adjust the plan or opinion later if necessary.

Something struck me as odd though, "Just because your conscience is certain doesn't mean it's correct!" I feel as though conscience and immediate opinion may have been confused here. Conscience belongs to the individual and the individual only so whatever a person's conscience tells him/her is correct is, for that person, correct - more information or not. Opinion, on the other hand, does change with added information but the conscience, the moral base, stays the same.

The gentleman from Yale makes a valid point that could, perhaps, be addressed with three words; less litigious Americans. Bioethics panels are made up of a group of well rounded and educated people and decisions are not made willy nilly and they are not dictatorial. A group decision must be met. Perhaps if these groups weren't unnecessarily concerned with legal ramifications of hastily constructed but timely decisions then more positive outcomes could be achieved.

Saturday, July 03, 2010  

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