Medical Responsibility and Clinical Guidelines: A Few Remarks from Two Italian Juridical Cases

Medicine Studies 3 (3):157-169 (2012)
Abstract
PurposeThe aim of this paper is to assess the complex issue of responsibility in clinical practice. The paper focuses mainly on the relationship between personal- and medical-professional responsibility of practitioners and clinical guidelines.MethodsAfter a theoretical review of the different definitions of responsibility in selected bioethical and biojuridical literature, two recent juridical proceedings concerning medical responsibility from Italian Courts are discussed. Subsequently, a theoretical analysis of the definition of clinical practice guidelines is proposed in order to show their feasibility to assess personal- and medical-professional responsibility.ResultsThe definitions of responsibility and the two Italian cases show the theoretical and practical difficulties of shared assessments of both personal-professional and medical-professional responsibility in clinical practice. Clinical practice guidelines cannot be assumed as an objective code of action stating exactly a rule of conduct in all situations, but as a tool suggesting how to decide what to do in different conditions.ConclusionsResponsibility in clinical practice is such a complex issue to deserve a special ethical assessment. The clinician’s personal-professional responsibility cannot be replaced or reduced by clinical practice guidelines, because medicine is as such a relationship focused on the expertize of practitioners. Nonetheless, a shared approach to different clinical conditions is needed in order to avoid a relativist outcome and protect patients’ and even clinicians’ rights. Formal guidelines (that describe not exactly what to do but how to decide what to do) are proposed as potential useful tool to achieve this aim
Keywords Ethics  Practice guidelines  Legislation  Legal liability  Professional deontology
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