THICS, LAW AND MEDICAL PRACTICE
The Hon. Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG Justice of the High Court of Australia
Certain experiences in my life have enlivened my interest in the subject matter of this book.
My appointment to the Australian Law Reform Commission required me, for a decade, to examine many topics relevant to law and medical ethics. In their report on Human Tissue Transplants (ALRC 7, 1977) the Commission noted the varying attention to medical ethics in undergraduate medical courses in Australia and concluded that the moral and ethical questions raised, particularly by technological developments, called for detailed analysis and discussion with present, and potential, members of the Australian medical profession.
This book will add to the Law Reform Commission's message by demonstrating the variety, complexity and controversy of the issues presented to the contemporary healthcare profession. The issues arise out of ancient and abiding problems (such as consent to treatment, confidentiality, respect of patient privacy and high professional standards). They also present new problems (deriving from new techniques of information recording, a clearer understanding of the importance of good communication, the increasing presence of the state in medical practice, the dilemmas of new drugs and the pressures imposed on doctors working in a society with rapidly changing values).
More recently, I have become involved in the Human Genome Project where we are considering the enormously difficult ethical challenges which are presented as the DNA of our species is unravelled. The book of ethical dilemmas in medical practice is never closed. It is our fate to live in a generation when the problems are presenting in growing number and complexity. Our capacity to respond is sorely tested. Yet respond we must. If no other response is forthcoming, our legal system, founded on the common law,