Close-up image of a fractal (in gray).

Issue 3(3)

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Volume 3, Number 3 (December 2006)



Christopher Jordens

Recent Developments

Recent Developments in Law

John McPhee and Cameron Stewart


Patients as Rational Traders: Response to Stewart and DeMarco

Malcolm Parker
Stewart and DeMarco’s economic theory of patient decision-making applied to the case of diabetes is flawed by clinical inaccuracies and an unrealistic depiction of patients as rational traders. The theory incorrectly represents patients’ struggles to optimize their management as calculated trade-offs against the costs of care, and gives an unrealistic, inflexible account of such costs. It imputes to physicians the view that their patients’ lack of compliance is unreasonable, but physicians are accustomed to the variety of human factors which contribute to suboptimal compliance, and work with patients to minimize their influence. By depicting patients as rational traders rather than human beings with a range of motivations and burdens, the economic theory distorts the proper function of informed consent.


Douglas O. Stewart and Joseph P. DeMarco

Original Research

Gifts, Drug Samples, and Other Items Given to Medical Specialists by Pharmaceutical Companies

Paul M. McNeill, Ian H. Kerridge, Catherine Arciuli, David A. Henry, Graham J. Macdonald, et al.
Aim: To ascertain the quantity and nature of gifts and items provided by the pharmaceutical industry in Australia to medical specialists and to consider whether these are appropriate in terms of justifiable ethical standards, empirical research and views expressed in the literature. Design and Setting: Fifty-one medical Sydney specialists were asked to collect all gifts, offers, invitations, and items received from pharmaceutical companies in an eight-week period. Main Outcome Measures: The items received were categorised as promotional/educational, drug samples, clinical practice aids, office gifts, personal gifts, and invitations; and were analysed in relation to the pharmaceutical industry Code of Conduct. Results: A large number (mean = 42/participant) and wide range of gifts and items were received. These included promotional/educational items (mean = 21), drug samples (mean = 8), office gifts (mean = 5) and personal gifts (mean = 1), clinical aids (mean = 3), and invitations (mean = 3) to meals, meetings, and conferences. Most gifts and items complied with the Code with a few breaches including offers of entertainment (sporting event and cabaret), items of high monetary value (in competitions with prizes unrelated to medicine), unbranded gifts, and promotional documents presented as journal articles. Conclusions: Medical specialists received many gifts and items from pharmaceutical companies and a few that infringed the Code current at the time of the study. The findings were considered in the light of changes that have since been made to the industry Code of Conduct and professional medical guidelines on ethical relationships between physicians and the industry. In large measure, these changes are supported although some suggestions are made for stricter standards.

Patient-Centred Care: Qualitative Findings on Health Professionals’ Understanding of Ethics in Acute Medicine

Pam McGrath, David Henderson, and Hamish Holewa
In recent years the literature on bioethics has begun to pose the sociological challenge of how to explore organisational processes that facilitate a systemic response to ethical concerns. The present discussion seeks to make a contribution to this important new direction in ethical research by presenting findings from an Australian pilot study. The research was initiated by the Clinical Ethics Committee of Redland Hospital at Bayside Health Service District in Queensland, Australia, and explores health professionals’ understanding of the nature of ethics and their experience with ethical decision-making within an acute medical ward. This study focuses on the actual experience, understanding and attitudes of clinical professionals in a general medical ward. In particular, the discussion explores the specific findings from the study concerned with how a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals define and operationalise the notion of ethics in an acute ward hospital setting. The key issue reported is that health professionals are not only able to clearly articulate notions of ethics, but that the notions expressed by a multi-disciplinary diversity of participants share a common definitional concept of ethics as patient-centred care. The central finding is that all professional groups indicated that there is a guiding principle to address their ethical sense of the “good” or the “ought” and that is to act in a way that furthered the interests of patients and their families. The findings affirm the importance of a sociological perspective as a productive new direction in bioethical research.

Communication of Genetic Information Within Families: The Case for Familial Comity

Angela Davey, Ainsley Newson, and Peter O’Leary
Advances in genetic technologies raise a multitude of ethical issues, some of which give rise to novel dilemmas for medical practice. One of the most controversial problems arising in clinical genetics is that of confidentiality and who may disclose genetic health information. This paper considers the question of when it is appropriate for health professionals to disclose clinically significant genetic information without patient consent. Existing ethical principles offer little guidance in relation to this issue. We build on suggestions that genetic information may be viewed as collective or shared information, and we introduce the concept of “familial comity” as a fresh way to consider the issues.

Genetic Testing: The Appropriate Means for a Desired Goal?

Inmaculada de Melo-Martín
Scientists, the medical profession, philosophers, social scientists, policy makers, and the public at large have been quick to embrace the accomplishments of genetic science. The enthusiasm for the new biotechnologies is not unrelated to their worthy goal. The belief that the new genetic technologies will help to decrease human suffering by improving the public’s health has been a significant influence in the acceptance of technologies such as genetic testing and screening. But accepting this end should not blind us to the need for an evaluation of whether a particular means is adequate to achieve it. Lack of such evaluation notwithstanding, discussions of the ethical, legal, and social implications have tended to presuppose that the development and implementation of genetic testing will be an appropriate means to reduce human suffering in significant ways. I argue here that such an assumption is mistaken. In part this is the case because human biology is more complex than sometimes it is made to appear in these debates. But, the idea that human suffering resulting from disease can be reduced in significant ways with the use of genetic testing also ignores the social contexts in which these technologies are being developed and implemented.

Ethics in Indigenous Research—Connecting With Community

Terry Dunbar and Margaret Scrimgeour
The challenge for those responsible for funding, brokering and assessing the merit of proposed Indigenous research is to identify and then work co-operatively with appropriate representatives of Indigenous interests in order to increase the flow of benefits from research to Indigenous peoples. Experience in Australia has shown that this is not a straightforward process. In this paper we indicate some reasons why it is important for the research community to broker research with representative Indigenous organisations and to involve Indigenous peoples in the ethical assessment and conduct of research. We then identify some barriers to the achievement of these objectives and outline recently developed interventions from the field of health research that aim to promote a more effective working relationship between Indigenous peoples and members of the research community.

Body Talk in the Clinic as a Memoir of Real Lives: Katerina’s Story

Betty Kafanelis and Paul A. Komesaroff
The secret worlds of life experience, culture, sexuality and emotions are often expressed through physical “symptoms.” The lived body becomes the entry point for professionals to enter the world of the patient. This article, arising out of a study of the experiences of Greek women at menopause, discusses the story of one woman and interprets the cultural and emotional inscriptions that are carried into the clinical setting. It illustrates the multiple layers of corporeal meaning engendered by menopause and the clinical interactions surrounding it. It argues that the bodies that present themselves for consultation and examination are phenomenological memoirs of suffering, struggle and illness. Even in its most technical aspects medical practice cannot ignore the philosophies, values, goals and cultural experiences of those who seek its assistance.

Case Studies


Deborah Zion
This article was originally published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 3(1–2): 121, It is reprinted here for the sake of coherence.


Jon Jureidini


Louise Newman


Sarah Kyambi


Deborah Zion

In That Case: Bush Babies

Andrew Dobinson


Call for Papers on Bioethics in Asia

Jing-Bao Nie