On the Relationship between Medical Ethics and the Law

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In his comments on Bland, Lord Justice Hoffmann stated that ‘I would expect medical ethics to be formed by the law rather than the reverse’. But what judges expect, and what they have a right to expect, are different things; I shall use Hoffmann LJ’s statement as a way into looking at the relationship between ethics and law, and argue that it is partially correct insofar as that it makes a prediction about that relationship. Professional ethics and codes of ethics are shaped by law; but law is shaped by those codes to some extent, and both are influenced by ‘philosophical ethics’. As a normative claim, Hoffmann LJ’s statement is more compelling; but he also distinguished between ‘medical ethics’ and ‘morality’, and this merits exploration. There remains a question about the proper relationship between law, ethics, and morality that I shall address.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-245
Number of pages21
JournalMedical Law Review
Issue number2
Early online date17 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Bland
  • Durkheim
  • Ethics
  • Hoffmann
  • Philosophy
  • Professionalism


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