Moral Character in “Principles of Biomedical Ethics” by Beauchamp & Childress

The issue of moral actions can be reviewed from different perspectives. One aspect of it is the virtues of a person that guide his or her decisions and their connection to ethical behavior. The difference between norms and virtues is essential because the former is not subjected to changes due to alteration in a community’s perception or other factors. This paper aims to present a summary of Chapter 2 titled “Moral Character” and provide a comprehensive outline and overview of the ideas described in it.

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Chapter 2 of the book Principles of Biomedical Ethics discusses moral virtue as the essential element of healthcare services. According to Beauchamp and Childress, one should distinguish between virtues and norms because the former focuses on the person performing actions, and the latter refers to activities that are considered to be correct. Therefore, the main issue explored in this chapter is what guides morally right decisions and actions – a person or norms accepted in society. Beauchamp and Childress argue that the most important thing is to have a good character that will ensure ethical behavior and thus result in adherence to the moral norms (31). This element is necessary for medicine because personnel such as nurses or physicians often display compassion and support that is vital for their patients. However, this component is not outlined in any socially accepted moral standards because it involves emotions, which are difficult to evaluate.

Previous chapters of this book focused on the outlined norms that an individual should follow. Beauchamp and Childress state that “although principles and virtues are different and taught differently, virtues are no less important in the moral life” (40). The layout of Chapter 2 describes the meaning of moral virtues, their role in professional life and provides an assessment of the five core virtues. Special attention is dedicated to exploring the concept of caring because it is the core of any medical work. As Beauchamp and Childress point out, nursing care or health care contains the name of this concept for a reason, since it is essential for this field (42). This virtue is fundamental within healthcare, and the five others should be reviewed within its context because each of the five elements helps one express care.

Compassion requires one to be mindful of another person’s well-being and emotional state. Through compassion, one can help lessen the unfortunate experiences of an individual. In biomedical research, this virtue requires one to focus on the pain and suffering of a patient, and by expressing sympathy, this experience can be improved. Discernment refers to care because this virtue allows a person to make correct decisions and avoid the influence of factors that can impact judgment. This element is necessary because a discernment person can choose the right option from a variety based on the specific circumstances.

Trustworthiness is relevant in the field of biomedical research and healthcare because it allows one to create a relationship with a patient as patients are usually vulnerable due to their health issues. Therefore, this virtue requires a patient to rely on a medical professional and his or her competency and knowledge in providing care. According to Beauchamp and Childress, integrity includes several elements, such as “soundness, reliability, wholeness, and integration of moral character” (46). An individual with this virtue can be objective and use moral norms in his or her work—professional integrity in healthcare results in one following the accepted standards. Conscientiousness guides a person and allows one to make good choices because they are correct. This is necessary for caring because healthcare professionals have to inform patients about all aspects of procedures.

Also, moral ideas and moral excellence paragraphs examine the standards that should be used in biomedicine. However, in most cases, following the minimum ethical requirements is considered acceptable. Moral ideas are extraordinary actions that are not a part of norms, and therefore, while individuals can be praised for acting by these ideas, they are not obligatory. From this perspective, a hero would behave by the moral excellence standards. A moral saint acts beyond expectations that are often altruistic. Other people can display exceptional selfishness in their work and can be considered idols. Therefore, obligatory and non-obligatory actions define a person’s character and his or her moral virtues.

The chapter defines the notion of moral virtue, which helps understand this concept in the context of principles and rules. According to Beauchamp and Childress, it is “a dispositional trait of character that is morally valuable and reliably present” (31). Therefore, a person who has moral virtues does not solely rely on what is considered correct. Instead, he or she is guided by their perception and understanding of good and bad actions. This approach minimizes issues connected to distortion and changes of values and guarantees adherence to a specified moral behavior.

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The issue of motives that guide a person’s actions is explored in Chapter 2 as well because it is a necessary element of moral virtues. Beauchamp and Childress argue that ideas and perception of activities that an individual has when doing something matter (34). For instance, a person can adhere to the standards and behave ethically but have no belief in these ethical standards, such as not harming others or being compassionate. In this regard, Beauchamp and Childress conclude that the individual in question cannot be considered as someone who has moral virtue (34). One can argue that this Chapter provides an understanding of the fact that the context and personal characteristics of a person matter when examining moral virtues.

Next, this chapter defines virtues by examining their role in professional life. Beauchamp and Childress state that specific virtues are crucial in certain fields, while particular vices are usually discouraged. For instance, in medicine, it is common for physicians or nurses to have a good knowledge of the subject, promote and teach healthy lifestyle practices, and possess skills that help care for an individual’s health. Additionally, Beauchamp and Childress state that “roles and practices in medicine and nursing reflect social expectations” (40). Therefore, the virtues explored in Chapter 2 are a reflection of the expectations that a community has in regards to medical personnel.

The concept of supererogatory acts provides an understanding of a person performing tasks beyond what is expected. These acts are not outlined in the moral principles and ethical rules; however, they are a critical component of one’s virtue. Beauchamp and Childress note that in some cases, individuals do not think of their actions as something optional (46). However, this moral idea plays a role in defining virtues.

This chapter is essential for understanding the difference between moral virtues and principles because it outlines the differences and changes that can occur within the norms in a specific community. In essence, in one environment, for instance, a country or region, selfishness and disregard for other’s feelings can be considered noble, while in others, this behavior is unacceptable. Regardless of the different approaches, a person’s virtues will define how he or she approaches work and interactions with others, despite the standards and norms of a society.

In medicine, possessing moral virtue is crucial because professionals in this field often communicate with individuals who are vulnerable and need support and help. Beauchamp and Childress outline an ability to care and “compassion, discernment, trustworthiness, integrity, and conscientiousness” as important virtues for people working in the biomedical industry (50). In essence, these features allow a person to listen to an individual, adhere to his or her wishes in terms of health decisions, and be mindful. The last aspect is especially crucial because medical personnel and other biomedicine professionals have to be able to establish an honest relationship with others. Without this, society or a specific community will not adhere to recommendations.

A distinction pointed out in Chapter 2 between moral and ethical standards required for a profession is valuable. Beauchamp and Childress provide an example of a surgical error investigation that can be either technical or caused by a human (45). However, a normative mistake refers to a failure to work in accordance with the moral and ethical principles that result in problems and bad outcomes for patients. While the first two categories describe issues that occur because of a lack of knowledge or understanding of a procedure, the former is connected to a person’s character. The formative mistakes indicate that a person does not have good judgment in regards to good and bad decisions.

While the problem described above can appear to be insignificant, the summary section of this paper initiates that an individual working in the biomedical field has to possess a specified set of moral virtues. Primarily this is connected to the specifics of the work because caring as a virtue is essential. Being able to provide compassion and create a good relationship with a patient or subjects of research is necessary, which requires emotional commitment from a person. Therefore, no individual should be endangered or placed at risk by the actions of medical personnel.

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The information in Chapter 2 is important because it reviews ethics that is not regulated by rules and principles. Therefore, it highlights the importance of a medical professional being mindful about his or her practice. Additionally, the concepts, for instance, care, described in this section are necessary because they are connected to the interpersonal relationships with patients. The examples described by Beauchamp and Childress improve the understanding of the issues related to having no moral virtues, for instance, surgical errors and their perception (36). The connection between norms and virtues is evident, and one should try to improve personal characteristics to achieve moral excellence.

All in all, moral virtue is essential for an individual because it guides his or her actions regardless of the norms accepted in a specific environment. Understanding this element is necessary because it deepens one’s knowledge of morality and ethical actions. Understanding the virtues and their meaning for professionals in the biomedical field is essential because it reflects the ability of a person to make adequate decisions that will not harm others. Caring is a vital virtue that each biomedical professional should possess. The five priceless outlined by Beauchamp and Childress have to be considered by all individuals working in the biomedical industry because they are a guide of proper ethical behavior.

Work Cited

Beauchamp, Tom, and James Childress. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. 7th ed., Oxford University Press, 2013.

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