On Evidence, Medical and Legal

Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 10 (3):70-75 (2005)
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Abstract

Medicine, like law, is a pragmatic, probabilistic activity. Both require that decisions be made on the basis of available evidence, within a limited time. In contrast to law, medicine, particularly evidence-based medicine as it is currently practiced, aspires to a scientific standard of proof, one that is more certain than the standards of proof courts apply in civil and criminal proceedings. But medicine, as Dr. William Osler put it, is an "art of probabilities," or at best, a "science of uncertainty." One can better practice medicine by using other evidentiary standards in addition to the "scientific." To employ only the scientific standard of proof is inappropriate, if not impossible; furthermore, as this review will show, its application in medicine is fraught with bias. Evidence is information. It supports or undermines a proposition, whether a hypothesis in science, a diagnosis in medicine, or a fact or point in question in a legal investigation. In medicine, physicians marshal evidence to make decisions on how to best prevent, diagnose, and treat disease, and improve health. In law, courts decide the facts and render justice. Judges and juries assess evidence to establish liability, to settle custody and medical issues, and to determine a defendant's guilt or innocence.

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