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Theor Med Bioeth. 2018 Dec;39(6):431-452. doi: 10.1007/s11017-018-9474-8.

"Just do your job": technology, bureaucracy, and the eclipse of conscience in contemporary medicine.

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School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.
Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.


Market metaphors have come to dominate discourse on medical practice. In this essay, we revisit Peter Berger and colleagues' analysis of modernization in their book The Homeless Mind and place that analysis in conversation with Max Weber's 1917 lecture "Science as a Vocation" to argue that the rise of market metaphors betokens the carry-over to medical practice of various features from the institutions of technological production and bureaucratic administration. We refer to this carry-over as the product presumption. The product presumption foregrounds accidental features of medicine while hiding its essential features. It thereby confounds the public understanding of medicine and impedes the professional achievement of the excellences most central to medical practice. In demonstrating this pattern, we focus on a recent article, "Physicians, Not Conscripts-Conscientious Objection in Health Care," in which Ronit Stahl and Ezekiel Emanuel decry conscientious refusals by medical practitioners. We demonstrate that Stahl and Emanuel's argument depends on the product presumption, ignoring and undermining central features of good medicine. We conclude by encouraging conscientious resistance to the product presumption and the language it engenders.


Conscience; Medical metaphors; Modernity; Modernization; Philosophy of medicine; Professionalism

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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