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July 15, 1968


JAMA. 1968;205(3):175. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140290067021

Holding a unique position of trust and confidence and possessing highly specialized knowledge, the physician has power no other man holds. And over this power there is but little outside control. Yet, while the physician must make the decisions in regard to his patients, society does enter in, and by statute indicates certain activities which are "permissible," or "not permissible." In addition, some religions take a pronounced stand on what a doctor may or may not do under particular circumstances, although these prohibitions are binding only on members who observe that religion. But while an individual can deny the claim of a religion, he cannot deny the claim of law—he can only hope to avoid the penalty. Or, he can hold that the law is wrong and that a higher moral law is to be obeyed. Thus, he can deliberately break the law and, if necessary, take the penalty.