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Acad Med. 1993 Nov;68(11):848-52.

The influence of philosophical versus theological education on the moral development of clinical medical ethicists.

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  • 1Department of Humanities in Medicine, Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine, College Station.



Because of the increasing involvement of clinical medical ethicists in patient care and the resultant controversy over the appropriate background, training, and certification of clinical ethicists, this study was designed to investigate whether different educational backgrounds (philosophical versus theological) affected the moral reasoning of clinical ethicists and their orientations toward justice or care.


From 1987 through 1990, extensive oral interviews were conducted with 50 clinical medical ethicists (26 philosophers and 24 theologians) who were at 32 medical centers in 14 states from all sections of the United States. The interviews were used to gather selected demographic characteristics about the ethicists (age, gender, and educational background) as well as to determine the ethicists' scores for stages of moral reasoning and for moral orientation. Polyserial correlations and multivariant analyses were then performed between the demographic characteristics and the data on moral reasoning and moral orientation.


The philosophers and theologians were found not to be significantly different (p > .05) in their moral reasoning skills in terms of either moral stage score or weighted average score. Similarly, the philosophers and theologians were found not to be significantly different in their moral orientations toward justice or care in terms of recognition, predominance, or alignment. No significant relationship was found between age or gender and moral reasoning or moral orientation.


Based on the results of this study, it appears that clinical medical ethicists, whether philosophers or theologians, are a fairly homogeneous group with regard to their moral development, in terms of both their stages of moral reasoning and their moral orientations toward justice and care.

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