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An impasse in negotiations between the Department of Health (DoH) and the British Medical Association in November this year led to an overwhelming vote for industrial action (IA) by junior doctors. At the time of writing, a last minute concession by DoH led to a deferment of IA to allow further negotiations mediated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. However, IA by junior doctors remains a possibility if these negotiations stall again. Would the proposed action be ethically justifiable? Furthermore, is IA by doctors ever ethically defendable? Building on previous work, we explore important ethical considerations for doctors considering IA. The primary moral objection to doctors striking is often claimed to be risk of harm to patients. Other common arguments against IA by doctors include breaching their vocational responsibilities and possible damage to their relationship with patients and the public in general. These positions are in turn countered by claims of a greater long-term good and the legal and moral rights of employees to strike. Absolute restrictions appear to be hard to justify in the modern context, as does an unrestricted right to IA. We review these arguments, find that some common moral objections to doctors striking may be less relevant to the current situation, that a stronger contemporary objection to IA might be from a position of social justice and suggest criteria for ethically permissible doctor IA.

Original publication

DOI

10.1136/medethics-2015-103310

Type

Journal article

Journal

J Med Ethics

Publication Date

03/2016

Volume

42

Pages

167 - 170

Keywords

Clinical Ethics, Ethics, Dissent and Disputes, Ethics, Medical, Human Rights, Humans, Medical Staff, Hospital, Moral Obligations, Physician-Patient Relations, Social Justice, Strikes, Employee, United Kingdom