It's ethical, but is it legal? Teaching ethics and law in the medical school curriculum


  • The perspectives presented here are the author's and not necessarily those of other bioethics faculty at the University of Iowa College of Medicine.


While Western medical ethics has ancient roots in the teachings of Hippocrates, its standing in the undergraduate medical curriculum is a distinctly modern development. Today, all of the 127 accredited U.S. medical schools offer formal biomedical ethics instruction, and nearly all offer instruction in the related discipline of health law. This article describes how biomedical ethics and health law are taught at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, one of 12 medical schools that offers separate required courses in both ethics and law. Often ethics and law overlap; often, to act ethically is to act legally. But medical students and practicing physicians also regularly confront dilemmas that pose the question, “It's ethical, but is it legal?” This article discusses the goals, methods, and core themes of teaching issues at the intersection of medicine, ethics, and law, and how the approach to this instruction is designed to offer students a tool kit to begin to deal effectively with these complex issues in professional life. Anat Rec (New Anat) 265:5–9, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.