Background (Evidence-based medicine is a clinical decision making framework which makes claims about what physicians ought to do. Though heralded as the cutting edge of medical science evidence-based medicine is a value laden normative theory which implicitly depends on substantive views regarding what is morally good or right.
Objectives In this paper, I provide an ethical analysis of evidence-based medicine.
Method I consider its normative underpinnings in three ethical theories: utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, and virtue ethics.
Results In the face of uncertainty, evidence-based medicine endorses expected utility theory using the best available evidence in order to avoid doing more harm than good. In accordance with the Kantian respect for individuals as ends in themselves, evidence-based medicine calls for integrating the values and preferences of the patient. De-emphasizing intuition, clinical expertise, and pathophysiologic rationale emphasizes the need for the intellectual virtues of curiosity, critical thinking, and courage.
Conclusions Evidence-based medicine is a successful clinical practice that can be morally justified by all three major ethical theories. Although its focus on maximizing good health outcomes and integrating respect for individual patients has been emphasized, the role of the intellectual virtues in evidence-based medicine remains highly under-explored.