Exploring newly chartered territory: Can legal mediation processes be of benefit in clinical conflicts?

Associate Professor Nikola A. Stepanov1 2, Doctor Nicole Ash 3

1 Division of Tropical Health & Medicine, James Cook University, JCU Clinical School, The Townsville Hospital , 100 Angus Smith Drive, Douglas QLD  4814 nikola.stepanov@health.qld.gov.au
2 Centre for Health Ethics, Law and Education in the Tropics (CHELE), JCU Clinical School, The Townsville Hospital , 100 Angus Smith Drive, Douglas QLD  4814

3 Bespoke Dispute Management, Ground Floor, 53 Martin Place, Sydney 2000

Mediation and alternative dispute resolution processes are now well established in most areas of law including in the family law setting.

The ethos of mediation is that mediator should act as facilitator to encourage any parties to the dispute to work together to resolve conflict. Generally it is preferred to litigation, particularly where the parties need to work together to preserve a functional relationship. It may also be preferable on occasion to more prescriptive approaches such as clinical ethics committees.

In the family law setting co-parents in dispute need to find a way to work together for the sake of any children to the relationship. Similarly, in the clinical setting it is often critical to the wellbeing of affected patients (including children) that decision-makers and decision-influencers discuss issues and reach agreement in a timely, functional manner whilst preserving the relationship.

In this paper we discuss whether there is space for mediation in the clinical setting when disputes arise. Our primary purpose is to invite discussion on the use of clinical mediation generally; and to consider how current mediation models can be adapted to work effectively within the highly nuanced and complex area of health.


A/Prof Nikola Stepanov is the Director of the Centre for Health Ethics, Law, & Education (CHELE) in the Tropics; Chair of the Townsville Hospital and Health Service Human Research Ethics Committee; and a Board Director at Central West Hospital and Health Service.

Nikola is an ethicist, and is accredited as a (NMMAS) mediator by the Department of Justice, Qld; and as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner by the Federal Attorney General Department (children and property). Her main professional and research interests are in legal realism, paediatric ethics, and clinical mediation.

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

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