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by Vault Law Editors | December 07, 2009


In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, ethicist Randy Cohen offers seemingly contradictory advice to two different letter-writers. Advice-seeker No. 1 is involved in law firm recruiting and asks whether it is OK to “recommend not hiring someone solely because of his or her politics” (those politics being reflected in the candidates’ membership in the Federalist Society). Cohen’s response: “You may not. If candidates can do the job, bathe regularly and work well with others, you should hire them.”

He proceeds to berate the lawyer for her question: “Is it your position that only people who share your politics should be allowed to make a living?” The interviewer, whose role is “to consider [applicants’] judgment and personality,” isn’t contending that Federalist Society members shouldn’t be permitted to work, just that she doesn’t want them working in her office. Perhaps that bias is indeed “odious,” as Cohen suggests. But is it less reprehensible when a doctor refuses to treat someone simply because he doesn’t like the way he makes a living?

Apparently it is—if that patient happens to make a living as a malpractice lawyer.

In letter No. 2, a physician whose pediatrician wife has been on the receiving end of a malpractice suit, asks whether he may ethically refuse to serve a “notorious medical-malpractice attorney.” Cohen says sure, by all means (“Do not reproach yourself”). His argument: “If you simply take a dislike to someone — he’s a blowhard; she’s whiner — and cannot rise above those feelings, then you may honorably turn those folks away. It is not foolish to want your workday free from intimate interactions with people you detest.”

There is honor in a doctor turning away “a blowhard” patient, but a lawyer who would like to keep her workday “free from intimate interactions with people” whose views she detests is indulging in “mini-McCarthyism.”

Me thinks me sees a double standard here …

- posted by vera


Filed Under: Law

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