Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Lessons from the front line

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 06 October 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j4624
  1. Daniel Sokol, medical ethicist and barrister
  1. 12 King’s Bench Walk, London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

Lawsuits are miserable for doctor defendants but can lead to better, safer practice

In the summer of 2002 I was sitting in an Oxford café with a professor of medical ethics. I had just finished a masters degree in the history of medicine and, intrigued by the dubious conduct of some doctors in the past, was contemplating a career in medical ethics. “What do you want to do?” asked the professor. “I want to help doctors,” I replied. And so started my journey in medical ethics.

Fifteen years later, now working as a barrister, I sue doctors.

The way to reconcile these two facts is that lawsuits, though miserable affairs, can lead to better, safer practice. But this only occurs if lessons are learnt, and this …

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