Doctors' Business; Lawyers' Ethics
6 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2007
Date Written: December 20, 2007
If you were to ask a random sample of your friends and neighbors, chances are good that virtually all of them would tell you that medical ethics are superior to legal ethics. But at least in a few important regards, they would be seriously wrong
Health care has become a huge industry. Yet medical ethics do not seem to have kept pace with the changing environment, no doubt because they were developed to deal with medical issues and have not traditionally been concerned with more worldly matters, such as profit margins and potential conflicts of interest. Thus, doctors (and hospitals) are able to indulge the useful fiction of the selfless healer, devoted exclusively to each patient's well-being and therefore completely unaffected by monetary concerns. In that noble paradigm, increasingly inaccurate as it may be, there is little risk of conflicted interests, and consequently little need to adopt ethics rules that will prevent them.
For all their many faults, lawyers have always been frank about their place in the world. Law practice is a business. Legal ethics, therefore, were developed largely to facilitate the commercial relationship between attorney and client. And because business requires autonomy, it turns out that clients may have substantially more rights than do patients, especially when it comes to setting the terms of the relationship itself.
This essay is adapted from my forthcoming book, The Importance of Being Honest (NYU Press 2008).
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