The Changing Context of Sport and Medicine’s Social Contract with Society: Implications for Sports Medicine Ethics

in International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training
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Sports medicine professionals are facing new dilemmas in light of the changing dynamics of sport as an enterprise. These changes have considerable ethical implications as sports medicine team members are placed in challenging ethical decision-making situations that often create values tensions. These values conflicts have the potential to threaten and degrade the trust established through the mutual expectations inherent in the social contract between the health care providers and society. According to Starr,1 the social contract is defined as the relationship between medicine and society that is renegotiated in response to the complexities of modern medicine and contemporary society. Anchored in expectations of both society and the medical professions, this tacit contract provides a strong compass for professional practice as it exemplifies the powerful role and examines the deep responsibilities held by health care providers in our society. Although governed by professional boards and organizational codes of ethics, sports medicine professionals are challenged by the conflicts of interest between paternalistic care for the athlete and autonomous decisions often influenced by stakeholders other than the athletes themselves. Understanding how the construct of sport has impacted sports health care will better prepare sports medicine professionals for the ethical challenges they will likely face and, more importantly, facilitate awareness and change of the critical importance of upholding the integrity of the professional social contract.

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