Intensive Care Ethics in Evolution

5 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2004

See all articles by Katherine Hall

Katherine Hall

University of Otago - Christchurch School of Medicine


The ethics of treating the seriously and critically ill have not been static throughout the ages. Twentieth century medicine has inherited from the nineteenth century a science, which places an inappropriate weight on diagnosis over prognosis and management, combined with a seventeenth century duty to prolong life. However, other earlier ethical traditions, both Hippocratic and Christian, respected both the limitations of medicine and emphasised the importance of prognosis. This paper outlines some of the historical precedents for the treatment of the critically ill, and also how the current paradigm limits clinical practice and causes ethical tensions. An understanding that other paradigms have been ethically acceptable in the past allows wider consideration and acceptance of alternatives for the future. However, future alternatives will also have to address the role of technology, given its importance in this area of medicine.

Suggested Citation

Hall, Katherine, Intensive Care Ethics in Evolution. Bioethics, Vol. 11, pp. 241-245, July 1997. Available at SSRN:

Katherine Hall (Contact Author)

University of Otago - Christchurch School of Medicine ( email )

NZHTA, Dept. of Public Health & General Practice
PO Box 913
New Zealand

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