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Good medical practice: professionalism, ethics and law

Good medical practice: professionalism, ethics and the law is a textbook designed for medical students, doctors-in-training and international medical graduates. This crisp, well-written text provides a broad-brush overview of the many aspects of Australian law that impact on medical practice.

07 Mar 2011

Good medical practice: professionalism, ethics and lawby Kerry J. Breen, Stephen M. Cordner, Colin JH Thomson, Vernon D Plueckhahn:

Publisher: Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 978-0-521-18341-3

Reviewed by Associate Prof Jeffrey Looi

Good medical practice: professionalism, ethics and the law is a textbook designed for medical students, doctors-in-training and international medical graduates.

This crisp, well-written text provides a broad-brush overview of the many aspects of Australian law that impact on medical practice.

Though it contains preliminary discussion of ethics, the text is primarily a pragmatic précis, traversing such topics as the legal responsibilities of medical students, consent, negligence, medical records and termination of pregnancy.

Notable omissions are coverage of issues of global health and more controversial issues such as provision of medical care for asylum seekers and the universal prohibitions against doctors' involvement in torture. There are also thorny issues in the provision of medical care and assessment of prisoners in gaols and similar facilities, which are surprisingly not covered.

The bane of any textbook is the passage of time, and the section on the regulation of the medical profession in Australia is perhaps largely superseded by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency; the transition to this body is highly significant and surely warrants online updating.

Professionalism is complex and, of the three components of the book, it seemed that this received the least coverage. This is perhaps the result of a general societal process of ceding the territory of professional standards and expertise to legalism and the wilds of the World Wide Web. The increasing reliance on legislation to prescribe aspects of professional relationships continues, and is documented in the detail of this book. No doubt this is laudably intended to protect patients and families, but one wonders whether this leaches further life from what was once and still should be a humane relationship between patient and doctor.

That such a textbook is necessary is undoubted, and this book is suitable for its target audience as a readable, pragmatic overview.

There is much more to the practice of medicine than the rules of law; both ethics and professionalism must be guided by a philosophy. As Paracelsus noted: "It is a lame creature that call himself a physician and he be void of philosophy and know her not."

That so much legislation is required to formalise the doctor-patient-society relationship may be an indictment of the civility of society. Laws are most often needed in the breach of civility, and civility gifts what the law cannot.

Assoc Prof Jeffrey Looi, ANU Medical School, Canberra


Published: 07 Mar 2011