Collectivizing rescue obligations in bioethics

Am J Bioeth. 2015;15(2):3-11. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2014.990163.


Bioethicists invoke a duty to rescue in a wide range of cases. Indeed, arguably, there exists an entire medical paradigm whereby vast numbers of medical encounters are treated as rescue cases. The intuitive power of the rescue paradigm is considerable, but much of this power stems from the problematic way that rescue cases are conceptualized-namely, as random, unanticipated, unavoidable, interpersonal events for which context is irrelevant and beneficence is the paramount value. In this article, I critique the basic assumptions of the rescue paradigm, reframe the ethical landscape in which rescue obligations are understood, and defend the necessity and value of a wider social and institutional view. Along the way, I move back and forth between ethical theory and a concrete case where the duty to rescue has been problematically applied: the purported duty to regularly return incidental findings and individual research results in genomic and genetic research.

Keywords: genetic research; moral theory; research ethics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence*
  • Concept Formation
  • Duty to Warn / ethics*
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethical Theory
  • Ethicists
  • Genetic Research / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Principle-Based Ethics
  • Rescue Work / ethics*
  • Social Justice
  • Social Responsibility*
  • Social Values*