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Just Wars and doctors' strikes
  1. Mark Sheehan, Associate Editor
  1. Correspondence to Mark Sheehan, Oxford NIHR BRC Ethics Fellow, University of Oxford, Ethox Centre, Nuffield Department of Population Health, Oxford, UK; mark.sheehan{at}

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Adam Roberts’ paper in this issue tackles the ethics of doctors’ strikes in the light of the conflict in the UK between the Department of Health and junior doctors.1 Whilst there has already been a decent amount written on doctors’ strikes and the most recent junior doctors’ one, this paper provides a nice example of the way in which reflection on the theoretical arguments outside of the directly medical context can usefully be applied in specific contexts with good effect.

In his brief paper Roberts sets out to develop a general ethical framework for understanding doctors’ strikes and then applies it to the specific context of the recent NHS junior doctors’ strike. The paper concludes that the action taken by junior doctors was ethical.

The general (and entirely reasonable) strategy of Roberts’ paper is to produce and argue for an independent set of standards—in this case a set of criteria to be satisfied—by which we can judge the ethical acceptability of particular behaviours. It is a ‘top-down’ approach that aims to capture the full range of issues in an ethical framework and then to use these to determine the ethical acceptability of strike actions in specific contexts. This route has the advantage, when successful, of providing a clear justification for or against the resulting ethical assessment of the strike. Challenges from within this approach will come from those who see failings in the either the setup of the ethical framework or in its application in the particular context.

The paper begins by distinguishing two questions that, according to Roberts, are often conflated: ‘How should doctors behave as doctors?’ and ‘Should doctors strike?’. “It is not analytically true that those principles which dictate how doctors should conduct themselves in their work also determine when and how they may suspend that …

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