Introduction

Although medicine is an international discipline, practiced in much the same way throughout the English-speaking world, laws vary considerably from country to country. Much of the law applicable in the United States and in the countries of the Commonwealth derives from the English common law, but medical practitioners should not assume that the laws of their own countries or states will necessarily apply in other countries or states even if medical practices are indistinguishable. In this chapter, the author attempts to establish principles of general applicability; however, it is written from the perspective of the law applicable in England and Wales and should be read with that in mind.

Recently in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, many statutes relevant to medical practice have been enacted. Ignorance of the law is no defense, and today's doctors are at risk of prosecution for breaches of the law as no previous generation has been. Yet the teaching at undergraduate level of forensic (or legal) medicine is now patchy and variable, so today's doctors are seldom well informed about laws that govern their daily practices. It is hoped that this chapter will help redress that position, but only a brief outline of some relevant law can be offered here. Doctors are advised to continue to subscribe to one of the traditional medical defense organizations (Medical Defence Union [MDU], Medical Protection Society [MPS], or Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland [MDDUS] in the United Kingdom, Canadian Medical Protective Association [CMPA] in Canada, or

From: Clinical Forensic Medicine: A Physician's Guide, 2nd Edition Edited by: M. M. Stark © Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ

one of the Australian defense bodies) or an equivalent organization or to take out adequate insurance to ensure that they have access to advice and legal representation for medicolegal problems arising from their professional work, and, of course, indemnity for any adverse awards of costs and damages for professional negligence.

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