An Ethical Approach 1 – Introduction

Description of the module

This module is part of a package that aims to encourage medical students to deepen their ethical questioning. This happens to be particularly important in a profession that regularly deals with major human issues, such as concerns, suffering, and death. The dissymmetrical relationship between patient and physician has often been has often been pointed out. Because medicine deals with vulnerable people who need it, the risk of abuse of authority is all the more important. As a consequence, medicine has been implementing rules of conduct, codes and laws for at least four millennia.
The first objective of this module is to clarify the various levels of standards (law, deontology, ethics, social conformity) required/in order to help understand the concept of “ethics”.
The second objective consists of increase awareness of the place occupied by ethics withing medicine. Medicine is first and foremost a therapeutic relationship, and thus an ethical relationship, before being a technical exercise. Knowledge and technicity are required to provide help efficiently. There is no conflict between the scientific and the technical aspects of the medical profession, and its ethical aspect. They are both integral parts of the profession, which is indeed clearly stated in the major medical skill sets (CanMEDS, SCLO, CNGE, etc.).
Despite the lengthy history of ethics, it is nonetheless important to remember that it remains a work in progress that never stopped renewing itself since WWII. Medical ethics has fundamentally changed, and it these changes are continuing. Discussing ethics does not mean learning dead theories or fixed rules, but rather to interrogate oneself on how we can face concrete problems and assume one’s responsibility.

Duration of module: Approximately 40 minutes

Author’s Biography:

1Jérôme Goffette is a Senior Philosophy Lecturer at the Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University, where he teaches Medical Humanities at the Lyon-East and Lyon-South Faculties of Medicine. He acted as Director of the University’s joint teaching service in human and social sciences, where he invested himself more particularly in medical teaching and in the development of required skills, including the patient-physician relationship.
The research he performed in the EVS laboratory (Environment, City, Society) (UMR 5600) bears on anthropotechnics (human enhancement), the philosophy and concept of body (see his webpage at www.academia.edu – in French only).


The author wishes to thank Yves Zerbib, professor of general practice in the Department of general practice in Lyon, for the longstanding complicity in ethics teaching. He also thanks him for the review and enhancement this module, which now takes advantage of the synergies of a philosopher and a physician. He also thanks posthumously the philosophers who, since Greek Antiquity, have created a very rich field of reflection: Aristotle, Montaigne, Spinoza, Kant, Bentham, Mill, to mention only the most classical. Finally, he thanks Isabelle Burnier and Jean Roy for the invaluable exchanges between the Medical Humanities Departments in Lyon and in Ottawa.