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J Law Med Ethics. 2009 Fall;37(3):461-75, 396. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2009.00407.x.

The ethical health lawyer: an empirical assessment of moral decision making.

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Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, USA.


Writing in 1999, legal ethics scholar Brad Wendel noted that "[v]ery little empirical work has been done on the moral decision making of lawyers." Indeed, since the mid-1990s, few empirical studies have attempted to explore how attorneys deliberate about ethical dilemmas they encounter in their practice. Moreover, while past research has explored some of the ethical issues confronting lawyers practicing in certain specific areas of practice, no published data exists probing the moral mind of health care lawyers. As signaled by the creation of a regular column "devoted to ethical issues arising in the practice of health law" in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, the time to address the empirical gap in the professional ethics literature is now. Accordingly, this article presents data collected from 120 health care lawyers. Presenting this population with a number of hypothetical scenarios relating to how they would respond when confronting an ethical dilemma without an obvious solution or when facing a situation in which their personal values were in tension with their professional obligations, this article represents a first step toward better understanding how lawyers who practice in health care settings understand and resolve the moral discomfort they encounter in their professional lives.

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