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Introduction Notes

Updated Introduction Notes

Medical Law Notes

Medical Law

Approximately 1067 pages

Medical Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB medical law cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

These were the best Medical Law notes the director of Oxbridge Notes (an Oxford law graduate) could find after combing through forty-eight LLB samples from outstanding law students with the highest ...

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Learning Objective: How should law respond to complex ethical dilemmas in medicine?

Learning Goals:

What is meant by medical ethics, and bioethics

What different kinds of ethical reasoning modes are there

What common appeals are made in justifying one mode of ethical reasoning over another

Central Issues:

Conventional medical ethics focused on doctor-patient individual encounter. Bioethics encompasses dilemmas new technologies may raise for society.

Religious perspectives on bioethics tend to be less individualistic than secular approaches. Medical progress is generally supported by religious bioethicists.

Deontological reasoning is concerned with prioritising rights. Utilitarians are concerned with consequences. Virtue ethicists are concerned with what a virtuous person would do.

The principalist approach is top-down, based on four principles: autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice (and maybe common good too). In contrast, casuistry is bottom up, and reasons by analogy.

Feminist ethics of care rejects models of ethics based on patient autonomy, and emphasises relationships and interdependence.

Slippery slope claims are essentially empirical claims, and regulation might be the best way to accommodate them.


Medical Ethics

Medical ethics dates back to the Hippocratic Oath in 5th century BC, which concerned what it means to be a good doctor, from the perspective of the doctor himself (e.g. how should the doctor get consent, when can a doctor breach confidence etc.). Back then, it was the doctor decided the patient’s best interests (paternalistic), and acted accordingly (as a ‘good doctor’ would).

Conventional medical ethics is argued by Sherwin to marginalise both patient’s perspectives, and the broader social causes of ill health:

patients get sick because of a range of factors, some of which are so intimate and best known only to the patient. This makes it difficult for others to make choices which suit the patient’s own value system.

discussion about patient autonomy is focused on individuals, and ignores the broader social context within which their symptoms/conditions may have arisen.

Draper and Sorrell also argue that conventional medical ethics ignores obligations of patients:

little or nothing in medical ethics is said about the choices patients ought to make, or their responsibility for making such choices - importantly, their responsibility not to use health services casually, and not to commit a double wrong of ignoring doctor’s advice which then aggravates the patient’s symptoms/illness (given limited resources etc.).

the patient is simply treated as an autonomous agent who must be allowed to decide for themselves what course of option they should pursue, and such a decision is ‘good’ simply by virtue of being made by the patient.


A more recent concept, first used in 20th century, concerned with complex ethical issues in life sciences generally, due to technological advancements e.g. perform organ transplants on brain-dead (but still alive) patients.

Kuhse and Singer argue bioethics was a response to the decline of medical paternalism and rise of patient autonomy:

From 1960s onwards, with increased scientific developments (spearheaded by scientists and doctors) and rising concern about the community being involved in decisions that affect them, public awareness grew re the value-laden nature of medical/scientific decision making.

Bioethics was born from this climate, and its goal is to better understand the complex ethical issues, and ask deeper questions about the nature of ethics, the value of life etc. It also embodies the issues of public policy and direction/control of science.

Callahan and Jennings have argued that the scope of bioethics is growing still, to incorporate wider public heath concerns.

Modes of ethical reasoning

How should we make difficult ethical decisions

Gut instinct? Yuck factor? The moral sniff test for short. Leon Kass has admitted that revulsion is not an argument, but concedes that it may express a deep emotional wisdom beyond articulation. On the other hand, Harris has argued that ‘olfactory moral reasoning’ is unreliable (e.g. people used to feel disgusted by Jews, black people and women as equals).

Bioethicists try to find out what mechanism is behind resolving our ethical dilemmas, something that goes beyond our gut instinct:

a) Religious Bioethics

Unclear what role religion should play in bioethics, given the status of religion as a private matter, and the various religions that exist. In this regard, Callahan argues that the secularisation of religion has lead to the public relying on law as a source of morality, and bereft of accumulated wisdom and knowledge that are the fruit of long-established religions.

Similarities can be identified between the religious bioethical approaches (e.g. focus on right or wrong, belief in sanctity of life, and the golden ‘love your neighbor’ rule). These common elements lead to the approach that life is not ours, and we are not fit to alter or destroy it (i.e. no patient autonomy).

However, there has been a shift in attitude re the altering of life (e.g. surgery), and now, most Christian churches have modified their teachings, away from the ‘doctors playing god’ view. Contrast this with the Judaism and Muslim approach, which encourages preventative medicine, and treatment of illness (i.e. man is encouraged to look after and complete the imperfect work of the creator). Note: these religious views do not necessarily justify the use of all forms of medical treatment, and in this regard, it is actually unclear how far these views can be taken.

b) Utilitarianism - A teleological approach

Born from the work of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mills, utilitarianism promotes the maximisation of welfare (the greatest good for the greatest number), on a case-by-case basis, and is consequence based morality. Rule utilitarianism is a variant which asks which rule would...

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