Law and Ethics and Medicine: How do they relate?
Hello, my name is Jessica Azmy and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. This year I am taking a year away from my medical studies and studying for a Masters in Healthcare Law and Ethics, before returning to my final year of medical school. I will hopefully then graduate as a doctor!
It may seem strange to be completing a Masters at this stage and I never imagined when I started Medicine that this is something I would do. During medical school I was intrigued by the relationship between the law and medical practice because it seemed to be relevant in all areas. I often found doctors referring to what the law does and does not allow and wanted to explore this further. I am really interested in certain areas such as the law determining whether children can or cannot refuse medical treatment that doctors feel is best for them. The main aim is to consider what the law currently says and what it should say, if we lived in an ideal world. Of course doctors need to know the law to avoid being taken to court, if something goes wrong!
What the law should say comes down to fundamental questions which are captured by the ethics part of my course. For example, the reason why doctors must always ask whether we agree (consent) to medical treatment is because we are human beings that have the ability to decide for ourselves what we want. The exploration of why doctors should act in certain ways and whether it is right or wrong to take a particular course of action is a constant source of debate and there is rarely one ‘correct’ answer. This is what I like most because it makes me consider my own views and learn to argue these in a way to persuade other people to agree with my argument. Some of the areas I have considered include organ donation and whether this should or should not be a choice, whether scientists should be able to experiment on humans, and the problems arising from creating human-animal hybrids (mixture of human and animal tissue).
What’s the point?
With constant advances in science and technology creating new possibilities in healthcare there is a need to consider what we should and shouldn’t allow. How would you feel if you could choose the characteristics of your future child – their hair colour, eye colour and even intelligence? Do you think everyone should be an organ donor? Should doctors be allowed to end the life of a patient who is suffering terribly? Should doctors ever keep information from patients to prevent upsetting them? These are some of the pressing questions that ethics aims to address! The issues are often on the news making what I am studying even more relevant and interesting.
I am not sure what type of doctor I want to be in the future but the best thing about law and ethics is that it is relevant to all areas of medical practice and will hopefully help me with whatever speciality I go into. I hope to also use my Masters to teach future medical students about the law and perhaps offer advice in legal cases involving doctors.
To explore a wide range of ethical dilemmas in science visit:
For a greater look at the ethics surrounding gene technology:
To look at what is involved in creating human-animal hybrids (mixing human and animal tissues):
Watch this video for a general introduction to ethics (not specific to science):
Really interesting video comparing ethics in science and arts and giving more information on why we make decisions: