Commentary on Ors: Godot'ian ethics and Godot-syndrome

- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.
The Jakobovits Centre of Jewish Medical Ethics,
Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, ISRAEL

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 7 (1997), 54.


Respectful disagreement is an essential part of the process of bioethical dialogue and Dr. Ors and I have disagreed in the past. But I have to express my hearty agreement with Ors' views in the previous issue, about "the ethics of vain expectation", a form of "Waiting for Godot". (Ors Y. EJAIB (1997) 7: 8-9). The truth is that too many physicians are vainly waiting for bioethics to come down from the mountain and tell them what to do, thereby allowing them to wash their hands of the sometimes fearful duty of making their own ethical decisions and taking full moral and legal responsibility for what they decide. In my opinion the role of medical ethicists has to be educational, teaching young future physicians and nurses to think for themselves, to "be their own ethicists". And no matter how much bioethics progresses it will always be reflective enquiry (sometimes philosophical, sometimes religious, sometimes literary or legal). It will never be an exact science.

Physicians and nurses will always have to make decisions in the terrible darkness of insufficient evidence and conflicting logics, the anguished void of which existentialist playwrights and novelists were so aware. Ors deserves credit for pointing out the importance of this tradition for bioethics. Sartre's essay, "l'Existentialisme est un humanisme", is also relevant, teaching that we will always have moral problems which no authority or philosophical system can solve for us. We have to decide for ourselves. And incidentally the prophetic tradition which is my inspiration, Judaism, is much less a body of clear answers and directives than many people think. I believe in studying this - like other spiritual traditions - deeply. But it tells you what to do much less often than it leaves you to decide for yourself.

I also agree with Ors on the importance of nurses. Those of us who came into bioethics from philosophy are only a transitory phenomenon. We lack the clinical experience and we have insufficient background in medical biology. The best thing we philosophers can do for bioethics is to teach philosophical and spiritual thinking to as many experienced nurses as possible so that they will replace us and become the future teachers of bioethics, both in nursing and in medical schools. (See my "Educating Nurses for their future role in bioethics. Nursing Ethics 3 (1996), 39-52).


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