Developing an empirically-informed virtue ethics policy approach to medical practice

Justin Oakley1

1 Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University, Victoria 3800.

Several philosophers have recently developed accounts of virtue ethics which are more empirically-informed than previous versions of this approach. In doing so, they have argued for a comprehensive conception of virtuous character-traits, whereby practically intelligent virtues include an awareness of situational and environmental factors which conduce to or inhibit virtuous behavior. However, these accounts have so far had only a limited impact on virtue ethics approaches to medical ethics, and on policy applications of medical virtue ethics.

In this presentation I argue that policymakers should design institutional environments which help raise medical practitioners’ awareness of when such situational ‘conducers’ or ‘inhibitors’ are likely to assist or derail medical role virtues from hitting their targets. I also argue that policymakers can feasibly support doctors developing and maintaining role virtues such as medical beneficence by designing institutional environments which minimize the impact of these situational ‘inhibitors’ on the therapeutic relationship between doctors and patients.


Justin Oakley is Associate Professor at Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics. He is author of Morality and the Emotions (Routledge, 1993), and Virtue Ethics and Professional Roles (with Dean Cocking) (Cambridge University Press, 2001), and editor of Informed Consent and Clinician Accountability: The ethics of report cards on surgeon performance (with Steve Clarke) (Cambridge University Press, 2007), and Bioethics (Ashgate, 2009). He is currently working on a project on policy applications of virtue ethics in medical practice, and a project on genetic parenthood and the regulation of assisted reproduction. Justin is also co-editor of the journal Monash Bioethics Review.