Ethics and Evidence

J Clin Ethics. Spring 2019;30(1):56-66.

Abstract

Towards the end of the last century, bioethics underwent an "empirical turn," characterized by an increasing number of empirical studies about issues of bioethical concern. Taking a cue from the evidence-based medicine movement, some heralded this as a turn toward evidence-based ethics. However, it has never been clear what this means, and the strategies and goals of evidence-based ethics remain ambiguous. In this article, the author explores what the potential aims of this movement might be, ultimately arguing that, while the development of good empirical research can and should aid in ethical deliberation, one ought to avoid assuming or suggesting that empirical studies themselves determine normative prescriptions and proscriptions. The limits of the use of empirical studies in bioethics are explored in detail, and 10 potential ways that such studies can soundly contribute to bioethics are described. Good ethics depends upon sound facts, but ethics cannot be based on evidence alone.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues
  • Bioethics*
  • Empirical Research
  • Ethical Theory
  • Evidence-Based Medicine* / ethics
  • Humans
  • Morals