AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. July 2000, Volume 2, Number 7.

Cases in Law and Ethics

  • Print

Should Physicians Advocate for Political Issues and Candidates?

An ethical case explores whether it's appropriate for a physician to express his political views to patients.

Both ethics and law address norms that govern physicians’ behavior. Many view the law as a baseline for articulating the limits placed on individuals living within society as well as an enabling device to facilitate social relationships. Encompassing as the law may be in some areas of human conduct, in many others it is silent. In the absence of legal norms or prohibitions, physicians often find guidance in the standards arrived at through ethical reasoning.

To guide students through the process of ethical reasoning and to acquaint them with case law, a new case study will appear every 2 to 4 weeks. Students will be given legal and/or ethical opinions to assist their decision-making.

July Case Scenario

Dr. Henry is an internist at a university teaching hospital, and also has clinical responsibilities at a local prison hospital. He has strong views about the corporatization of medicine, and is outspoken in his conviction that universal health coverage is a human right. Dr. Henry often discusses his political views with his patients. A few of his physician colleagues have expressed concern about him bringing his political views into the examination room. In response, Dr. Henry says:
It's a free country. Besides, what does expressing my views about the political system have to do with treating my patients? If anything, I'm acting as an advocate for patients when I discuss with them why we need universal health coverage.
  1. Do you think it is appropriate for Dr. Henry to discuss his political views with his patients?
  2. If not, does Dr. Henry not have a First Amendment right to express his political views?

See what the AMA Code of Medical Ethics says about this topic in Opinion 9.012 Physicians' political communications with patients and their families. American Medical Association. Code of Medical Ethics 2008-2009 Edition. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 2008:292-293.

The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.