Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 101–109 | Cite as

Law as Clinical Evidence: A New ConstitutiveModel of Medical Education and Decision-Making

  • Malcolm Parker
  • Lindy Willmott
  • Ben White
  • Gail Williams
  • Colleen Cartwright
Original Research


Over several decades, ethics and law have been applied to medical education and practice in a way that reflects the continuation during the twentieth century of the strong distinction between facts and values. We explain the development of applied ethics and applied medical law and report selected results that reflect this applied model from an empirical project examining doctors’ decisions on withdrawing/withholding treatment from patients who lack decision-making capacity. The model is critiqued, and an alternative “constitutive” model is supported on the basis that medicine, medical law, and medical ethics exemplify the inevitable entanglement of facts and values. The model requires that ethics and law be taught across the medical education curriculum and integrated with the basic and clinical sciences and that they be perceived as an integral component of medical evidence and practice. Law, in particular, would rank as equal in normative authority to the relevant clinical scientific “facts” of the case, with graduating doctors having as strong a basic command of each category as the other. The normalization of legal knowledge as part of the clinician’s evidence base to be utilized in practice may provide adequate consolation for clinicians who may initially resent further perceived incursions on their traditional independence and discretion.


Applied ethics Attitudes toward death Clinical ethics End-of-life Medical law Professional ethics 



We are very grateful to the two anonymous reviewers of the paper, whose comments and suggestions have clarified and strengthened the arguments it puts forward.


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of MedicineUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Law SchoolQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Population HealthUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Southern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia

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