Medical ethics and law as a core subject in medical education

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7145.1623 (Published 30 May 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1623

A core curriculum offers flexibility in how it is taught—but not that it is taught

  1. Len Doyal, Professor of medical ethics,
  2. Raanan Gillon, Professor of medical ethics
  1. St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, London E1 2AD
  2. Imperial College School of Medicine, University of London, London SW7 2AZ

    In Tomorrow's Doctors Britain's General Medical Council initiated a radical and needed reform of medical education. One of the less noticed, yet revolutionary, aspects of this reform is that medical ethics and law have become a core component of the curriculum. Thus all medical students, states the council, must acquire knowledge and understanding of ethical and legal issues relevant to the practice of medicine and be able “to understand and analyse ethical problems so as to enable patients, their families, society, and the doctor to have proper regard to such problems in reaching decisions.”1

    Seeking to pool their expertise, most of the academics currently teaching medical ethics and law in UK medical schools—mostly cliniciansphilosophers, lawyers, and theologians—hammered out a consensus statement about what should constitute the core academic content necessary to produce “doctors who will engage in good ethically and legally informed practice.” They also agreed some minimal organisational requirements for the subject to be taught successfully.

    The consensus statement sees the teaching of medical ethics and law as contributing to the overall objective of medical education—“the creation of good doctors who will enhance and promote the health and medical welfare of the people they serve in ways which fairly and …

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