Medical students should not be able to qualify without a clear understanding of their legal obligations, according to Sandy Macara, chairman of the British Medical Association council.
Dr Macara, speaking at this week's BMA conference of medical academic representatives, said doctors and lawyers must work together in teaching students during their degree.
Different medical schools covered different elements of legal, philosophical and ethical issues, he said, but these should be given a much higher priority.
Delegates unanimously agreed that medical ethics should be a core component of the medical curriculum.
Moral and legal issues are seen as increasingly im portant in the light of campaigns and concerns about euthanasia, "advance directives" stating the patients' preferred treatment if they become unable to communicate, in-vitro fertilisation, and patients' rights generally.
* The conference called on every medical school to continue to explore the possibility of introducing a new application system for potential medical students within the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Delegates fully supported the medical schools' preference scheme as aiming to simplify admissions by taking the preferences of applicants into account, to the benefit of both the schools and the applicants.
The scheme, which has been proposed by Roy Pounder, professor of medicine at the Royal Free Hospital medical school, attempts to overcome the current potential difficulty of schools making more offers than the number of places available.
Applicants would list their choices in order of preference rather than alphabetically, as at present, and would be made no more offers once they had accepted a place.
The medical academics also urged the association to set up a medical education committee. Academics felt that this was needed given current changes such as the impact of the National Health Service reforms on medical schools, and the General Medical Council's proposed new curriculum which would move from traditional rote learning to self motivation.