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Dual loyalty is defined as, particularly as it pertains to the field of medicine, a conflict or potential conflict between a healthcare professional’s simul- taneous obligations–expressed or implied–to a patient and to a third party. Dual loyalty situations often compromise physicians’ ethical behavior, lead- ing them to participate, either knowingly or unknowingly, in human rights violations perpetrated by a third party, often the state. Classic dual loyalty situations include the participation of physicians in state-sanctioned torture or the death penalty. However, there are a number of other dual loyalty scenarios that arise routinely in clinical practice in both closed institutions such as prisons, psychiatric facilities, and the military and in open societies promulgated by discriminatory practices, policies, and laws that can lead physicians and other health care professionals to contribute to the viola- tion of individuals’ human rights. Healthcare professionals are, for the most part, not formally trained to contend with these dual loyalty conflicts. While physicians routinely learn about bioethical frameworks to assist them in resolving difficult clinical dilemmas created, for example, by mod- ern technology that extends life or by limited resources, few are taught a human rights framework that can assist them in protecting patients’ human rights in cases of dual loyalty. This paper presents a case-based approach that utilizes a human rights framework for teaching dual loyalty in the undergraduate medical education curriculum. The medical profes- sion is in dire need of training its workforce to grapple with the myriad dual loyalty issues that confront the profession today, and must institute curriculum reform to prepare future health care professionals to deal with dual loyalty scenarios that threaten individuals’ human rights.


This article was originally published in the Journal of Human Rights, available at DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2019.1617121



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