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Bullock, Emma, and . A Normatively Neutral Definition of Paternalism

2015, Philosophical Quarterly 65(258): 1-21.

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that a definition of paternalism must meet certain methodological constraints. Given the failings of descriptivist and normatively charged definitions of paternalism, I argue that we have good reason to pursue a normatively neutral definition. Archard’s 1990 definition is one such account. It is for this reason that I return to Archard’s account with a critical eye. I argue that Archard’s account is extensionally inadequate, failing to capture some cases which are clear instances of paternalism. I refine each of his three conditions, ultimately providing an improved definition of paternalistic interference. This revised definition meets specific methodological constraints, offering a definition that is both neutral between anti- and pro-paternalistic intuitions, but that also explains why paternalism is normatively significant. Specifically, this definition captures the conflict between interfering with an individual’s choices and treating the individual benevolently, without making paternalism permissible or impermissible by definition.

Comment: This paper updates Archard's attempt to provide a normatively neutral account of paternalism, and would be a good further reading for any topic touching on paternalism.

Corrigan, Oonagh, and . Empty Ethics: The Problem with Informed Consent

2003, Sociology of Health & Illness, 25 (3): 768-792.

Abstract: Informed consent is increasingly heralded as an ethical panacea, a tool to counter autocratic and paternalistic medical practices. Debate about the implementation of informed consent is constricted and polarised, centring on the right of individuals to be fully informed and to freely choose versus an autocratic, paternalistic practice that negates individual choice. A bioethical framework, based on a principle-led form of reductive/deductive reasoning, dominates the current model of informed consent. Such a model tends to abstract the process of consent from its clinical and social setting. By fleshing out the social process involved when patients and healthy volunteer subjects consent to take part in clinical drug trials, this paper attempts to address the problem arising from the current ’empty ethics’ model. My arguments are substantiated by qualitative interview data drawn from a study I conducted on the process of consent as experienced by participants in clinical drug trials.

Comment: This text is a clear critique of the use of informed consent as a medical-ethical panacea (it could be taught alongside O'neill's "Paternalism and Partial Autonomy" for a more accessible and applied look at the problem of informed consent). It would be useful as a contrast at the end of a unit on informed consent for medical treatment or a unit on clinical research ethics. It is especially good for use in a biomedical ethics or research ethics course aimed at students interested in the health professions.