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What is the difference between legal and ethical issues?

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Quick Answer

The difference between legal and ethical issues stems from the division between the core areas of law and ethics; law controls what people can and cannot do, while ethics are moral standards that govern what people should or should not do. Legal and ethical issues arise frequently, and are commonly encountered in certain fields such as medicine, healthcare and politics. In some instances, legal regulations prohibit people from carrying out certain tasks, such as administering life-saving support, that are considered morally permissible actions.

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What is the difference between legal and ethical issues?
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Full Answer

Some laws generate few negative responses, as their intent to protect and promote the safety and well-being of the public is virtually indisputable. Other laws, however, generate disagreement among citizens, particularly over sensitive issues such as end-of-life care and medical treatment for certain conditions. While legal and moral issues sometimes coexist in harmony, they can also raise questions and generate conflicting opinions.

Providing medical treatment or failing to do so, for instance, is a controversy concerning law and ethics. An elderly patient in a nursing home might have a statement in his or her will allowing the refusal of resuscitation in certain situations. If the patient suddenly collapses, many people would consider the act of resuscitating the individual to be the morally correct course of action, while law prohibits such actions.

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