Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2003




American Bar Association




Law is the dominant force behind American medical ethics, and has been for at least the past half-century. That ' lawyers and judges, rather than physicians, have set the agenda for medical ethics in the United States is a bit surprising to many in the field of medical ethics, but it should not be. Medicine has historically been based on paternalism. The Hippocratic physician was obligated to act in the best interests of the patient-as the physician judged those interests-and to "do no harm." American law, on the other hand, is based on liberty and justice, principles that, among other things, led to the law's adoption of the doctrine of informed consent--better termed informed choice-under which individuals make the ultimate decision about what, if anything, will be done to their bodies. All of the articles in this. issue make that central point from a remarkable variety of perspectives.

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