Sunday, October 20, 2013

The politicalization of medical ethics

The politicization of medicine is a topic raised and discussed cogently by Dr. Thomas Huddle. See here for an abstract of his article.

First, with the publication of the Charter, Professionalism in the New Millennium in 2002 the notion of social justice was injected into the listing of attributes and behaviors that physicians should exhibit to act professionally.

Subsequently a commitment to social justice was declared to be an ethical imperative in the American College of Physicians'  (ACP) ethics manual. Other professional organizations followed suit pledging at least rhetorical support of the inclusion of social justice into their ethical propositions.

 Dr Huddle, who teaches at University of Alabama Medical School at Birmingham, says in part:

"Advocacy on behalf of societal goals... is inevitably political".

" civil virtues are outside of the professional realm" and " the profession of medicine ought not to require any political stance".

Requiring a commitment to social justice is clearly  political and requires physicians to take a particular political stance .Advocacy for social justice is one feature of the modern liberal or progressive political stance.Such advocacy is not typically part of the conservative political viewpoint or the libertarian ( aka classical liberal) position.

The notion of justice upon which which the country was founded  was that of the justice embodied in the rule of law,i.e. treating everyone equally under the law. The foundational notion of the social justice line of thinking is essentially that treating folks who are unequal equally is unfair and unjust and therefor there must be societal  effort to mitigate inequality by redistributional efforts of the state.

The physicians who authored the Charter and the ACP's new ethics would appear to be of the progressive persuasion while there are many physicians in the country who are not. A small group of what I have labeled as the medical progressive elite have seemingly captured the conversation and are attempting to  profoundly alter traditional medical ethics.To the extent that they and similar minded individuals set the agenda of major medical professional organizations and medical students education they may have succeed. but I wonder how many practicing physicians are even aware of the views that they pretend to be a settled issue.

No comments: