CA: Ethical Decisions in Physical TherapyPage 7 of 10

5. The Relationship of Ethics and the Law


Issues Addressed by Both Ethics and Law

  • Access to medical care
  • Informed consent
  • Confidentiality
  • Exceptions to confidentiality
  • Mandatory reporting
  • Privileged communication with healthcare providers
  • Advance directives
  • Abortion
  • Physician-assisted suicide

There is an ongoing debate about the relationship of ethics and the law. In 1958 the Harvard Law Review published the famous Hart Fuller Debate, which addressed the relationship of law and ethics (Harvard Law Review, 1958). Hart stated morality and law are separate, and Fuller opined that morality is the source of laws’ binding power. Ethics and law both address similar issues (see box).

It has been said that the relationship of ethics and law considers that conscience is the guardian in the individual (ethics) for the rules which the community has evolved for its own preservation (law). There are limits to the law. The law cannot make people honest, caring, or fair. For example lying, or betraying a confidence, is not illegal but it is unethical. While not every physical therapy practice act requires adherence to a code of ethics, all do require adherence to the law.