What’s the relationship between law and ethics in healthcare? Medical students often get confused about these two topics. And their classes may not help. Many teachers use these terms interchangeably, and some course titles have both terms within them.
Law and ethics are two different things. And sometimes, medical professionals face situations in which the two concepts conflict.
The Role of Law and Ethics in Healthcare
Let’s start by defining our terms to make the connections and differences a little easier to unpack and understand.
Medical professionals deal with:
- Laws. Government officials craft these doctrines, and they’re designed to protect citizens. Violate them and expect punishment. You’re expected to comply.
- Ethics. These informal rules stem from your personal sense of right, wrong, and fairness. Ethics are infused by formal structures, including your government and your upbringing. But breaking them doesn’t typically come with an official punishment.
Both ethics and law in healthcare deal with behavior. But laws are minimum standards, and ethics are maximum standards.
How to Mediate Conflicts
While laws are influenced by ethics, the two can contradict one another in a healthcare setting.
Sometimes, your legal duties as a healthcare professional can conflict with your ethical responsibilities. The law may force you to do things your ethics just don’t condone. Or you may want to do something because it’s ethical, but the law isn’t on your side.
The best example involves capital punishment. The law requires doctors to participate, but ethical codes say doctors shouldn’t take life.
When you’re facing conflicts like this, working with a lawyer is crucial. Together, you can examine your options and find a path forward. Your lawyer may help you understand legal options to help you abide by your ethics. Or your lawyer may help you understand the legal implications of abiding by your ethics while breaking the law.
At Florida Healthcare Law Firm, we’re here to guide our clients into ethical, legal decisions. We can help you unpack thorny issues and make good decisions for your patients and your community. Contact us to get started.