The limits of social justice as an aspect of medical professionalism
Contemporary accounts of medical ethics and professionalism emphasize the importance of social justice as an ideal for physicians. This ideal is often specified as a commitment to attaining the universal availability of some level of health care, if not of other elements of a “decent minimum” standard of living. I observe that physicians, in general, have not accepted the importance of social justice for professional ethics, and I further argue that social justice does not belong among professional norms. Social justice is a norm of civic rather than professional life; professional groups may demand that their members conform to the requirements of citizenship but ought not to require civic virtues such as social justice. Nor should any such requirements foreclose reasonable disagreement as to the content of civic norms, as requiring adherence to common specifications of social justice would do. Demands for any given form of social justice among physicians are unlikely to bear fruit as medical education is powerless to produce this virtue.
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