Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

The Role of a Lawyer's Morals and Religion When Counseling Clients in Bioethics

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

The Role of a Lawyer's Morals and Religion When Counseling Clients in Bioethics

Article excerpt

The fields of bioethics and law are inextricably entangled. Many of the toughest and most controversial issues in bioethics--abortion, surrogacy, control of frozen embryos, removal of life-support systems, physician-assisted death--end up being resolved, for better or worse, in the courts. The other branches of government are involved as well--legislatures pass laws, administrative agencies issue regulations, and presidents convene commissions and make funding decisions.

Wherever there is law, there are lawyers. When we think of lawyers and bioethics, we usually think of packed courtrooms and contentious litigation, but lawyers are more often involved behind the scenes, counseling clients who are facing life and death medical decisions. Counseling clients who want to execute a will or advanced directive; counseling clients who hope to adopt a baby; counseling clients who are worried about an elderly relative who has grown feeble and irrational; counseling clients whose child was born with Down's Syndrome and needs stomach surgery to survive; counseling a client whose mother is in a persistent vegetative state, and is being kept alive by artificial nutrition and hydration; counseling hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices on individual cases and institutional policies; counseling legislators and administrative agencies on what laws to write, and which regulations to issue. We rarely pause and consider this role of the lawyer.

While legal literature contains thousands of articles on bioethics and law, there are few works that examine the dynamics of the lawyer-client relationship. Scholars studying the intersection of law and medicine often ignore the context in which the two disciplines converge daily in countless offices around the country--with lawyer and client sitting together, talking, wrestling with tough choices, deciding what and what not to do.

This conference represents an important step in remedying that oversight. Yet it seeks to do more than merely examine the interactions between lawyer and client. It adds yet another element to what is already a complex picture--religion. This conference focuses not only on the role of the lawyer in bioethics, but also on the relevance of religion to the lawyer's work. This conference can thus be seen as the natural outgrowth of several other symposia hosted by Fordham Law School that have examined the relationship between religion and lawyering. (1)

Law, Bioethics, and Religion. Three academic disciplines. Three spheres of life. How do they come together in the lawyer-client relationship? How do they overlap, intersect, and interpenetrate? More specifically, what role should a lawyer's religion play in her relationships with clients? Should religion be part of the conversation between a lawyer and her client? What if a lawyer has religious objections to a course of action that appears to be in her client's best interests? Should the lawyer voice her objections, or stay silent?

As we deal with these issues, keep in mind the simple image of a lawyer and client, sitting together, talking, wrestling with tough choices. Let us consider two questions. First, how should we envision the relationship between a lawyer and her client? Second, what role should the lawyer's religion play in that relationship?


A. Hypothetical

My grandmother died a few years ago. At one point our family discussed the possibility of a feeding tube for my grandmother, but she died before we could make a decision. For the purposes of analysis, assume my grandmother has been comatose, on a ventilator and feeding tube for months, with no reasonable chance of recovery. (2) Assume further that my grandmother has left no living will or other indication of her wishes about life-supports. Under these circumstances, the law of our state allows the next-of-kin to make the decision. …

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