Doubly distributing special obligations: what professional practice can learn from parenting
AbstractA traditional ethic of medicine asserts that physicians have special obligations to individual patients with whom they have a clinical relationship. Contemporary trends in US healthcare financing like bundled payments seem to threaten traditional conceptions of special obligations of individual physicians to individual patients because their population-based focus sets a tone that seems to emphasise responsibilities for groups of patients by groups of physicians in an organisation. Prior to undertaking a cogent debate about the fate and normative weight of special obligations and a traditional ethic for contemporary healthcare, we need a deeper examination of what the traditional ethic of special obligations really means. Here we offer a conception of ‘doubly distributed’ special obligations. Physicians and similarly minded healing professionals abiding by a traditional ethic have always spread their devotion and attention across multiple patients and have shared responsibilities with physician and non-physician colleagues in much the same way devoted parents have frequently distributed their special obligations across multiple children and across multiple parents. By taking up the extended analogy of parent we argue that doubly distributing special obligations need not contradict the possibility of special obligations in restructured collective forms of healthcare delivery and financing.