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Supererogation and the profession of medicine
  1. A C McKay
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Alan C McKay, Department of Clinical Anaesthesia, Belfast City Hospital, Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7AB, Northern Ireland;


In the light of increasing public mistrust, there is an urgent need to clarify the moral status of the medical profession and of the relationship of the clinician to his/her patients. In addressing this question, I first establish the coherence, within moral philosophy generally, of the concept of supererogation (the doing of more than one's duty). I adopt the notion of an act of “unqualified” supererogation as one that is non-derivatively good, praiseworthy, and freely undertaken for others' benefit at the risk of some cost to the agent. I then argue that committing oneself to the profession of clinical medicine is an act of this kind. This is the case, not because the aim of medicine is to help patients, but because of the open ended commitment of time and the vulnerability to the consequences of failure that the clinician must accept.

  • Professional ethics
  • obligation
  • beneficence
  • supererogation

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