Clarence H. Braddock, MD, MPH; David Magnus, PhD
Potential Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed. Forms can be viewed at www.acponline.org/authors/icmje/ConflictOfInterestForms.do?msNum=M10-0293.
Requests for Single Reprints: Clarence H. Braddock III, MD, MPH, Division of General Internal Medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, MSOB, Room X210, MC 5475, 251 Campus Drive, Stanford, CA 94305-5475; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current Author Addresses: Dr. Braddock: Division of General Internal Medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, Medical School Office Building, Room X210, MC 5475, 251 Campus Drive, Stanford, CA 94305-5475.
Dr. Magnus: Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, Division of Medical Genetics, Department of Pediatrics, 701 Welch Road, #1105, Palo Alto, CA 94305.
Braddock CH, Magnus D. Empirical Methods in Bioethics: A Cautionary Tale. Ann Intern Med. 2010;152:396-397. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-152-6-201003160-00011
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2010;152(6):396-397.
Bioethicists and others have argued about the proper role for empirical research in addressing ethical concerns because of the increased use of social science, health services, and outcomes research methods in the medical ethics domain. In fact, a long tradition in normative ethics, the branch of ethics that seeks to make definitive arguments about what we ought to do, scoffs at attempting to derive conclusions about what one ought to do from empirical observations about what people actually do (1, 2).
In this issue, Halpern and colleagues (3) confront this dilemma in their innovative and rigorous empirical study of attitudes about the use of payments as an inducement to living kidney donation. Although the practice of using payments in this way was originally scorned, the growing problem of organ scarcity has led many to suggest that we reexamine the ethical objections to its adoption. The authors attempt to inform this debate with evidence suggesting that at least some of the ethical concerns may not be concerns at all. Their use of survey-based methods and careful statistical analysis forecasts that the concerns predicted in theory, which they state much of the opposition to regulated payment is based on, would not actually occur in practice. In doing so, Halpern and colleagues (3) wake the sleeping giant of “is” versus “ought” in ethics.
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Print ISSN: 0003-4819 | Online ISSN: 1539-3704
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