Why Law Pervades Medicine: An Essay on Ethics in Health Care
Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, Vol. 14, No. 1, Pp. 245-303, 2000
60 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2000 Last revised: 18 Jun 2015
Increasingly law has come to pervade medical practice, and increasingly doctors have come to resent its presence in so many aspects of their professional lives. This essay is an effort to foster dialogue and understanding between lawyers and doctors (and other health care professionals) at the point where their respective professions often intersect: ethics. It is particularly targeted to health care audiences. Using examples from patients rights and organizational ethics, the essay illustrates how law often reflects at least a temporary societal consensus on ethics. When law becomes society's primary enforcer of ethical views, however, its presence can impede ethical reflection on the very issues it was called upon to address. This essay illustrates this paradox in the context of informed consent and corporate compliance. Too often, health care providers concern for compliance with legal minimums has proven an impediment to further reflection on ethical maximums. The law itself, however, has never taken it out the hands of health care professionals to strive for the ethical high ground. Yet unless they continually do so strive, the law will become ever more pervasive throughout their institutions and their professions.
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