An important purpose of hospital ethics committees is to judge, according to relevant laws or guidelines, what is difficult for medical staffs to make decisions on. These judgments usually involve the case by case application of laws or guidelines to clinical settings, and resolution of conflicts between legal and ethical principles. What is presupposed here is the contemporary version of 'trust in reason', i.e. the well considered arguments by those full of knowledge and experience will lead to the appropriate conclusion. For ethics committees to have a manual for discussion is very useful, but too much dependence on it will make their judgments stiff. Ethics committees are required to have a kind of virtue, that is, they have to make appropriate judgments based on the particular and concrete situation. Therefore they have to improve constantly their ability to make judgments. Because the nature of ethical consideration is dynamic and not confined to current norms, ethics committees may bring the validity of laws or guidelines themselves into question, while obeying those norms. As virtuous people who live according to the laws can revise them through government, ethics committees can play a part in amending the laws or guidelines by influencing the network of ethics committees.
Bioethics 19 (1), 98-105, 2009
Japan Association for Bioethics