Developing and teaching the virtue-ethics foundations of healthcare whistle blowing

Monash Bioeth Rev. 2004 Oct;23(4):41-55. doi: 10.1007/BF03351419.


Healthcare whistle blowing, despite the benefits it has brought to healthcare systems in many developed countries, remains generally regarded as a pariah activity by many of the most influential healthcare professionals and regulatory institutions. Few if any medical schools or law department health law and bioethics classes, teach whistle blowing in a formal sense. Yet without exception, public inquiries initiated by healthcare whistle blowers have validated their central allegations and demonstrated that the whistle blowers themselves were sincere in their desire to implement the fundamental virtues and principles of medical ethics, bioethics and public health law. In many jurisdictions, the law, this time remarkably in advance of professional opinion, has offered legislative protection for reasonable allegations of whistleblowers made in good faith and in the public interest concerning a substantial and imminent threat to public safety. One reason for this paradoxical position, explored here, is that healthcare whistle blowing lacks a firm virtue-based theoretical bioethical and jurisprudential foundation. The hypothesis discussed is that the lack of this bioethical and jurisprudential substrate has contributed to a situation where healthcare whistle blowing suffers in terms of institutional support due to its lack of academic legitimacy. This article commences the process of redressing this imbalance by attempting to lay the theoretical foundations for healthcare whistle blowing. As a case study, this article concludes by discussing the Personal and Professional Development course at the ANU Medical School where healthcare whistle blowing is a formal part of a virtue-based curriculum that emphasises the foundational importance of conscience. Illustrative elements of that program are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Bioethics / education*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical / ethics*
  • Ethical Theory*
  • Ethics, Medical / education*
  • Humans
  • Philosophy
  • Principle-Based Ethics
  • Schools, Medical
  • Teaching / methods
  • Virtues*
  • Whistleblowing / ethics*
  • Whistleblowing / legislation & jurisprudence