Medical Complicity and the Legitimacy of Practical Authority

Ethics, Medicine and Public Health 12 (2020)
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If medical complicity is understood as compliance with a directive to act against the professional's best medical judgment, the question arises whether it can ever be justified. This paper will trace the contours of what would legitimate a directive to act against a professional's best medical judgment (and in possible contravention of her oath) using Joseph Raz's service conception of authority. The service conception is useful for basing the legitimacy of authoritative directives on the ability of the putative authority to enable subjects to comply better with reasons that already apply to them. Hence, the service conception bases the legitimacy of practical authority on a certain kind of greater knowledge or expertise. This helps to focus the conundrum regarding complicity on the clash of expertise between the medical expert and the governing body tasked with coordinating behaviour and otherwise devising rules for the social good. The ethical dilemma presented by a hypothetically legitimate directive to act against a professional's best medical judgment also serves to highlight the moral dimension of one's duty to obey a legitimate authority.



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Kenneth M. Ehrenberg
University of Surrey

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