Bioethics in a multicultural world: Medicine and morality in pluralistic settings

Leigh Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Current approaches in bioethics largely overlook the multicultural social environment within which most contemporary ethical issues unfold. For example, principlists argue that the "common morality" of "society" supports four basic ethical principles. These principles, and the common morality more generally, are supposed to be a matter of shared "common sense." Defenders of case-based approaches to moral reasoning similarly assume that moral reasoning proceeds on the basis of common moral intuitions. Both of these approaches fail to recognize the existence of multiple cultural and religious traditions in contemporary multicultural societies. In multicultural settings, patients and their families bring many different cultural models of morality, health, illness, healing, and kinship to clinical encounters. Religious convictions and cultural norms play significant roles in the framing of moral issues. At present, mainstream bioethics fails to attend to the particular moral worlds of patients and their family members. A more anthropologically informed understanding of the ethical issues that emerge within health care facilities will need to better recognize the role of culture and religion in shaping modes of moral deliberation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-117
Number of pages19
JournalHealth Care Analysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2003
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research for the paper was funded by a strategic grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


  • Cultural models of moral reasoning
  • Medical anthropology and bioethics
  • Multicultural societies


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