Remaining rooted whilst branching out: an investigation of rules and principles in decision-making
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Against the backdrop of health research regulation, this work engages in an exploration of, and offers suggestions towards, how the decision maker can negotiate the complex path of the difficult decision. It is argued that whilst rules and principles are heavily relied upon in order to determine what to do, this reliance takes place without adequate reflection of the different ways in which we seek to rely upon these decision-making aids. What is most often the topic of analysis is the content which rules and principles carry rather than consideration of the different functions which each can fulfil or their (un)suitability in helping the decision maker. Before we consider which principles or rules should inform our decisions, we need to understand why we are using rules and principles. It follows that in order to understand why we might use rules and principles, we must understand how rules and principles can actually help us to reach decisions. Through the development and refinement of a conceptual tree, this thesis sheds light on the how and the why, in order to help decision makers determine the which. Through the metaphor of a continuum, additional insights are offered on the interrelationships that might co-exist between rules and principles. This thesis begins by offering an analysis of pre-existing understandings of rules and principles from legal theory and bioethics literatures. Additionally, I consider the implications of principle-centric and rule-centric approaches to decision-making. Through the overarching metaphor of a tree, a conceptualisation of best practice instantiations, which represent a helpful middle-ground between rules and principles is also offered. This can provide significant practical support to the decision maker in navigating the path of the difficult decision.