Who Judges Harm?


Nadia N. Sawicki


            The American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) “Opinion 1.1.7, Physician Exercise of Conscience” attempts to help physicians strike a reasonable balance between their own conscientious beliefs and their patients’ medical interests in an effort to minimize harms to both. However, some ambiguity still remains as to whether the severity of harms experienced by physicians and patients is to be assessed externally (by policy makers or by a professional body like the AMA), or internally by the subjects of those harms. Conflicts between conscientious physicians’ self-assessments of the moral harm associated with various actions and the AMA’s external assessments of such harms are likely to lead to challenges in the implementation of some provisions of its opinion. This commentary argues, however, that provisions (b) and (e) of the opinion, which describe the information physicians should provide about their own scope of practice and about the existence of controversial procedures, are less likely to conflict with physicians’ subjective assessments of moral harm, and therefore will face fewer challenges in implementation.



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