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A Social Contract for Medical Librarians?

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I continue to read Wicclair’s Conscientious Objection in Health Care. In the second chapter he, somewhat doggedly, examines multiple ethical theories of the health professions. The formula is: name a theory, describe it, show how it does not necessitate a position of conscience absolutism (that one’s conscience must over rule all other factors in every decision), nor does it necessitate a position professional incompatibility (that one’s professional duties must over rule, in every case, the dictates of one’s conscience).

Inadvertently, the chapter gives a pretty good overview of the ethical theories which guide moral decision making in the medical professions. I can’t help but think about my own “profession.” (I suppose I really should make an effort to finish reading Preer’s Library Ethics.) What are the grounds upon which the medical library profession has established its codes? How is it that medical librarians navigate ethical dilemmas? Or, that is, what self-knowledge as a librarian guides them through these dilemmas?

Do medical librarians have an “internal morality” … one grown organically from the nature of the services that we provide?

Do medical librarians have an understood social contract? In other words, does society expect something from us in exchange for granting us professional authority? (Which begs the question: what do people expect from us?)

Or … do we (merely?) practice, by association, borrowing the ethical frameworks of our institutions? Hospitals, clinics, academic medical centers?

I suppose I am still struggling to understand who medical librarians are as a profession. Depending on the circumstance the medical librarian may be professionally embedded in clinical care, teaching students, conducting health research, or providing the services which are common to all libraries. Thus, it would seem, that no one ethical or professional self-conception would guide them.

I also worry that efforts to transform the profession–such as re-branding ourselves as “informationists”–will serve to alienate the professional from the historical practices which guide ethical reasoning … but that is a digression for another day.

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Written by Jere

May 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm

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