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Alawyer today can hardly speak to a doctor--or even be treated by one-without being assailed by lawyer jokes. These jokes go well beyond good-humored badinage and pass the line into venom and gall. They reflect, I think, the sense many doctors today have that they are embattled and endangered, cruelly subject to pervasive and perverse controls. This is puzzling, almost to the point of mystery. Doctors have long been the American profession with the greatest social prestige, the greatest wealth, and the greatest control over its work. Indeed, what other profession has been as all-conquering? One may need to go back to the seventeenth-century clergy, and before them perhaps to that gloriously predominant profession-knighthood. This mystery is worth exploring because ultimately regulating the profession is crucial to many of bioethicists' hopes. So let us explore it.


Reprinted with the permission of the Hastings Center Report and Wiley-Blackwell.