Professional autonomy in belgium

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 21 (5):425-439 (2000)
Abstract
The Belgian health care system has a few features that may havecontributed to the rising costs of health care: patients' freechoice of physicians, large clinical freedom of physicians, essentiallya fee-for-service remuneration for medical specialists in which the feesare agreed between insurance funds and physicians. The increased medicalconsumption and costs have prompted the state and insurance companies totake measures that limit the professional autonomy of the physicians.Access to medical education, free until 1997, is now restricted. Themedical profession is organized in the Order of Physicians that hasestablished a code of professional ethics that has moral but not legalforce. So far, there is no special legislation for thepatient–physician relationship, though laws on specific issueslike organ transplantation contain duties for physicians. In recentyears a debate is taking place on patients' rights, of which informedconsent is central and gaining importance in medico-legal publications.An analysis of (ethical and legal) regulations concerning thewithholding or withdrawal of treatment by physicians demonstrate thatthe profession still enjoys a large clinical autonomy, though duediscussion with the patient has become more explicitly required. Therespect for professional autonomy is not primarily due to any formalpower that the Order of Physicians would have, but is rather grounded inthe generally high quality of the patient–physician relationshipthat in ethical terms is considered essentially as a confidencerelationship rather than a contractual relationship.
Keywords professional autonomy  medical profession  Belgium  patient–physician relationship  informed consent  therapeutic obstinacy  end-of-life decision making  confidence relationship
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