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Health Law and Ethics
March 26, 2003

The Impact of United States Law on Medicine as a Profession

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Department of Health Policy, Health Law and Policy, The George Washington University Medical Center, School of Public Health and Health Services, Washington, DC.


Health Law and Ethics Section Editors: Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, and the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md; Helene M. Cole, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2003;289(12):1546-1556. doi:10.1001/jama.289.12.1546

The evolution of US law has had an enormous influence on medicine as a profession, and much of this legal evolution can be attributed to changes in the science and practice of medicine. This changing legal framework and its intersection with medicine has many facets. Three of the most important facets concern the evolution of the no duty-to-treat principle and the role of modern health care financing and civil rights law in altering this rule, the manner in which advances in medicine led courts and legislatures to change the standards against which professional medical liability is measured, and the basic loss of highly preferential treatment under US laws aimed at preventing anticompetitive conduct by businesses. However, despite the impact on the profession of an evolving legal system, concern over the integrity of medical professionalism continues to significantly influence both laws and lawmakers, including legislatures, regulatory agencies, and the courts.

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