How Bioethics Can Enrich Medical-Legal Collaborations


  • Amy T. Campbell,

    1. Assistant Professor in the Center of Bioethics and Humanities at Upstate Medical University and at the Syracuse University College of Law (courtesy), and Associate Faculty in the Bioethics Program of Union Graduate College – Mount Sinai School of Medicine
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  • Jay Sicklick,

    1. Deputy Director of the Center for Children's Advocacy in Hartford, Connecticut, and is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, and an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine
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  • Paula Galowitz,

    1. Clinical Professor of Law at New York University School of Law.)
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  • Randye Retkin,

    1. Director of Legal Health, a division of the New York Legal Assistance Group. Legal Health partners with medical professionals to address the non-medical needs of low-income people with serious health problems
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  • Stewart B. Fleishman

    1. Founding Director of Cancer Supportive Services at Continuum Cancer Centers of New York: Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
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Medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) — collaborative endeavors between health care clinicians and lawyers to more effectively address issues impacting health care — have proliferated over the past decade. The goal of this interdisciplinary approach is to improve the health outcomes and quality of life of patients and families, recognizing the many non-medical influences on health care and thus the value of an interdisciplinary team to enhance health. This article examines the unique, interrelated ethical issues that confront the clinical and legal partners involved in MLPs. We contend that the ethical precepts of the clinical and legal professions should be seen as opportunities, not barriers, to further the interdisciplinary nature of MLPs. The commonalities in ethical approaches represent a potential bridge between legal and health care advocacy for patient/client well-being. Bioethics has a role to play in building and analyzing this bridge: bioethics may serve as a discourse and method to enhance collaboration by highlighting common ethical foundations and refocusing legal and clinical partners on their similar goals of service for patients/clients. This article explores this bridging role of bioethics, through a series of case studies. It concludes with recommendations to strengthen the collaborations.