Sim, J (2020) Do we need rights in bioethics discourse? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 45 (3). pp. 312-331. ISSN 1744-5019

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Moral rights feature prominently, and are relied on substantially, in debates in bioethics. Conceptually, however, duties can perform the logical work of rights, but not vice versa, and reference to rights is therefore inessential. Normatively, rights, like duties, depend upon more basic moral values or principles, and attempts to establish the logical priority of rights over duties, or the reverse, are misguided. In practical decision-making, however, an analysis in terms of duties is more fruitful than one based on rights. A right may function as a proxy term for a consequentialist rule, or for a deontological constraint, but does not thereby enrich these concepts. Rights may also help in a purely expressive sense, and may assist an initial focusing on a moral conflict. However, their role in bioethics discourse is more one of convenience than of necessity. Moreover, unless rights are firmly founded on fundamental moral values, their use encourages rhetoric rather than argument.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Medicine and Philosophy following peer review. The version of record is available online at:
Uncontrolled Keywords: rights; duties; consequentialism; bioethics
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Divisions: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Primary Care Health Sciences
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2018 12:37
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2022 01:30

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