Observations Ethics Man

“But you’re not a doctor!”

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a3077 (Published 23 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3077
  1. Daniel K Sokol, lecturer in medical ethics and law, St George’s, University of London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}talk21.com

    Ethicists are valuable additions to the medical community, not despite but because of their distance from the nitty-gritty of clinical practice

    My partner, a surgeon, does not tell her colleagues that I’m a medical ethicist. I am, instead, a “journalist.”

    At a working party of anaesthetics last week an intensivist expressed surprise that the meeting proceeded without argument. “I expected the ethicist to be against this pro-doctor proposal,” he said, with evident relief. If doctors could design a Dante-esque inferno, medical ethicists would inhabit one of the lowest circles, below the statisticians and lower still than nurse managers and sociologists. Sporting ass’s ears, we would wallow in the excrement spewed from our mouths, whipped by doctors struck off the General Medical Council’s register—a suitable punishment for a group believed by many clinicians to bash doctors and speak drivel.

    Three years ago I wrote an editorial for the BMJ arguing for the introduction of clinical ethicists in hospitals.1 One retired GP remarked, sardonically, “So bring in someone from an ivory tower, who has no experience of the real clinical world.” In my …

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