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Brief Outline of the Relationship between Law and Medicine (By Dr Calvin Ho)

Contrary to coffeeshop talk of enmity between the legal and medical professions, there has been
in fact a long history of mutual respect. On certain issues such as those relating to a number of
public health concerns, law and medicine has reinforced each other to create a social force that
some have considered to be overpowering. From the twentieth century onwards, medicine has
drawn closer to law for a number of reasons. Due in part to technological advancement, the medical
profession not only has greater access to public records, it also has become intimately involved with
matters of life and death. Such access has inevitably given rise to struggles over individual civil
liberties and bodily integrity. These struggles have perhaps been most intense when they relate to
the family or human reproduction. Over time, certain values have become recognised as important
by law and medicine in a doctor-patient relationship. These include the practice of informed consent
and respect for privacy and confidentiality of patients. In the HeLP track, these value-based concerns
will be discussed, not only as overlapping concerns between law and medicine, but also between
ethics and law.

The institution of law (principally, the judiciary) is also one of the key organs of state, together with
the legislature (ie Parliament) and the executive. In this respect, the law is concerned with standards
of public conduct and public good. It most famously imposes a duty on all persons to take
reasonable care to avoid injury to those whom he or she could be expected to injure if due care was
not taken. As doctors possess a special set of knowledge and skills in the practice of medicine, a duty
of care generally exists between a doctor and his or her patient, the latter being someone who has
relied on the formers expertise. It is less clear if a similar duty of care exists between a patient and a
medical student or trainee doctor, and if so, to what extent. This issue will be addressed in the HeLP
track as an introduction to the law of negligence on duty of care. If a duty of care is found to exist,
there are often challenging questions as to whether a doctor has fallen below a certain standard of
care so as to become legally responsible to his or her patient in some manner. In Singapore, the law
has primarily deferred to professional medical knowledge in the determination of an appropriate
standard of care, although developments in other jurisdictions suggest that important changes may
occur in the foreseeable future. The subject of standard of care relating to medical diagnosis, advice
and treatment will be discussed later on in the HeLP track.

It is perhaps helpful to reiterate that the legal component of the HeLP track arose out of recognition
by the medical profession that legal knowledge, to the extent that is relevant to medical practice, is
an important component. It follows that the HeLP track aims to equip medical students with a
reasonable level of knowledge on medical law in order to enhance their practice of medicine.

PLEASE NOTE: Key legal concepts will be further discussed in Lecture 4 (Introduction to Health Law),
Lecture 6 (Consent) and Lecture 7 (Privacy and Confidentiality).