March 27, 1991

Medical Law, Medical Ethics

Author Affiliations

University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha

University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha

JAMA. 1991;265(12):1527. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460120041023

To the Editor. —  As a teacher of medical ethics, I have found it increasingly difficult to find cogent ways to explain the relevant differences between law and ethics to medical students.The article by Orentlicher,1 though generally helpful and informative, contains a most startling sentence that will serve to complicate this issue further: "In the absence of state law to the contrary, physicians and family members may act in accordance with good medical practice and the ethical standards of medicine." Statements such as this can generate widespread confusion, especially when they issue from the Office of the General Counsel of the American Medical Association. I do not know what Dr Orentlicher could possibly have intended by such a claim, but the implication that ethical behavior is (or ought to be) delimited by state law is clearly false. Without an explanatory argument to support it, I can only conclude