Integrating medical ethics with normative theory: Patient advocacy and social responsibility

It is often assumed that the chief responsibility medical professionals bear is patient care and advocacy. The meeting of other duties, such as ensuring a more just distribution of medical resources and promoting the public good, is not considered a legitimate basis for curtailing or slackening beneficial patient services. It is argued that this assumption is often made without sufficient attention to foundational principles of professional ethics; that once core principles are laid bare this assumption is revealed as largely unwarranted; and, finally, that these observations at the level of moral theory should be reflected, in various ways, in medical practice. Specifically, this essay clarifies a tension that exists between different kinds of moral principles and explores the possibility of dissipating that tension by shoring up foundational principles. The paper begins by setting out three alternative models of how best to balance patient advocacy responsibilities with broader social responsibilities. It then turns to critically assess these models and argue that one has several advantages over the others.
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