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Open Access Review

Ethical psychiatry in an uncertain world: conversations and parallel truths

Alexander M Carson1 and Peter Lepping2*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health, Social Care, Sport and Exercise Sciences, Glyndwr University, Plas Coch, Wrexham, UK

2 North Wales NHS Trust & Cardiff University, Wrexham Academic Unit, Technology Park, Croesnewydd Road, Wrexham LL13 7YP, UK

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Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2009, 4:7  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-4-7

Published: 25 June 2009


Psychiatric practice is often faced with complex situations that seem to pose serious moral dilemmas for practitioners. Methods for solving these dilemmas have included the development of more objective rules to guide the practitioner such as utilitarianism and deontology. A more modern variant on this objective model has been 'Principlism' where 4 mid level rules are used to help solve these complex problems. In opposition to this, there has recently been a focus on more subjective criteria for resolving complex moral dilemmas. In particular, virtue ethics has been posited as a more sensitive method for helping doctors to reason their way through difficult ethical issues. Here the focus is on the character traits of the practitioner. Bloch and Green advocated another way whereby more objective methods such as Principlism and virtue ethics are combined to produce what they considered sound moral reasoning in psychiatrists. This paper points out some difficulties with this approach and instead suggests that a better model of ethical judgment could be developed through the use of narratives or stories. This idea puts equal prima facie value on the patient's and the psychiatrist's version of the dilemma they are faced with. It has the potential to lead to a more genuine empathy and reflective decision-making.