Recent years have witnessed various unusual events in the medical field in China. This essay explores one particular event that has attracted intense attention and generated broad discussion: the use of a new but unapproved and unaccredited medical technique in a large Shanghai hospital that caused the death of a patient. Also examined are the series of incidents that led up to this tragic occurrence. Such events and incidents indicate that modern scientific medicine in China has taken a direction that may not be consistent with medicine as health care. Specifically, recent medical developments show an instrumentalist rationality – medicine as a tool for scientific development rather than the treatment of illness and disease.
This essay argues that the trend in China towards scientism and instrumentalism in medicine must be overcome by drawing on the moral and intellectual resources of Confucianism. It contends that the Confucian middle way is exactly what is needed to change the current direction in Chinese medical development. First, Confucianism sees science and technology as tools for human flourishing. The current focus on scientism – which seems to hold that science and technology have intrinsic values – is mistaken and should be corrected. Chinese medical technological innovation and application must be directed and mediated by the Confucian moral values of human flourishing and happiness. Second, Confucianism does not reject the gaining of material wealth or medical profit through the practice of medicine, but does require that medical activities be constrained by Confucian virtues, including humanity and righteousness, to ensure that unrighteous profit is not made. The essay concludes by contending that the practice of medicine should be based on embracing the so-called middle way, namely, Confucian virtues and moral concerns, rather than pursuing advanced scientific and technological development.