Medical ethics

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Medical ethics is the discipline of evaluating the merits, risks, and social concerns of activities in the field of medicine.

Medical ethics shares many principles with other branches of healthcare ethics, such as nursing ethics.

Ethical thinkers have suggested many methods to help evaluate the ethics of a situation. These methods provide principles that doctors should consider while decision making.


[edit] Principles of Medical Ethics

Six of the principles commonly considered in medical ethics are:

  • Beneficence - a practitioner should act in the best interest of the patient. (Salus aegroti suprema lex.)
  • Non-maleficence - "first, do no harm" (primum non nocere).
  • Autonomy - the patient has the right to refuse or choose their treatment. (Voluntas aegroti suprema lex.)
  • Justice - concerns the distribution of scarce health resources, and the decision of who gets what treatment.
  • Dignity - the patient (and the person treating the patient) have the right to dignity.
  • Truthfulness and honesty - the patient should not be lied to, and deserves to know the whole truth about his/her illness and treatment.

Principles such as these do not give answers as to how to handle a particular situation, but guide doctors on what principles ought to apply to actual circumstances. The principles sometimes contradict each other leading to ethical dilemmas. For example, the principles of autonomy and beneficence clash when patients refuse life-saving blood transfusion, and truthfulness may not always be upheld regarding the use of placebos in some instances.

To reconcile conflicting principles, Bernard Gert, a philosopher who specializes in medical ethics, propounds a theory that would require us to advocate our action publicly if we were to violate any basic moral principles (e.g., break a promise in order to save a life). Other philosophers, such as R. M. Hare, would require us to formulate a universal prescription in conformance with logic, such that all rational parties, including the patient (assuming he is rational), would subscribe to the same action in all circumstances that share the same essential properties.

In the United Kingdom, General Medical Council provides clear modern guidance in the form of its 'Good Medical Practice' statement.

[edit] Beneficence

One aspect to beneficence is that the physician should not allow a conflict-of-interest to influence medical judgment. For example, doctors who receive income from referring patients to medical tests have been shown to refer more patients for medical tests [1]. This practice is proscribed by the American College of Physicians Ethics Manual [2].

[edit] Death and dying

There are many conflicts of interest and medical ethics problems centered around the deaths of patients. Some of these issues include:

[edit] Sexual relationships

Medical ethics is generally taken to prohibit doctors and patients from entering into a sexual relationship, at least while the doctor-patient relationship continues. Doctors who violate this rule face the threats of deregistration and prosecution. It is estimated that between 2% and 9% of doctors have violated this rule based on a study in the early 1990s [3]. One pundit declares to physicians, "You can make your mistress your patient, but you cannot make your patient your mistress."

[edit] Treatment of family members

Increasingly, it is seen as inappropriate for doctors to treat members of their own family (partners, parents, children, etc.)[4][5]. The reasons given for this is that the patient may not be able to be open and honest about their condition, given the family relationship, and that the family relationship may be used to pressure the patient in to agree to treatment they might otherwise have not, thus interfering with their autonomy. On the other hand, however, patients with a doctor in their family may prefer to seek treatment from them, due to the greater trust they have in them, the greater convenience they represent, and in some cases their ability to use the family relationship to pressure or manipulate the physician into providing treatment they might otherwise see as inappropriate in the patient's circumstances (e.g. appetite suppressants, drugs of addiction). In the past this behavior has not always been seen so negatively by the profession, and it still sometimes continues.

[edit] Reproductive medicine

[edit] Medical research

Respect for persons, including informed consent.

[edit] Distribution and utilization of research and care

[edit] Critiques of conventional medicine

[edit] Critiques of alternative medicine

[edit] References

  1. ^ Swedlow A, Johnson G, Smithline N, Milstein A (1992). "Increased costs and rates of use in the California workers' compensation system as a result of self-referral by physicians". N Engl J Med 327 (21): 1502-6. PMID 1406882. 
  2. ^ (1998) "Ethics manual. Fourth edition. American College of Physicians". Ann Intern Med 128 (7): 576-94. PMID 9518406. 
  3. ^ Gartrell N, Milliken N, Goodson W, Thiemann S, Lo B (1992). "Physician-patient sexual contact. Prevalence and problems". West J Med 157 (2): 139-43. PMID 1441462. 
  4. ^ La Puma J, Stocking C, La Voie D, Darling C (1991). "When physicians treat members of their own families. Practices in a community hospital". N Engl J Med 325 (18): 1290-4. PMID 1922224. 
  5. ^ La Puma J, Priest E (1992). "Is there a doctor in the house? An analysis of the practice of physicians' treating their own families". JAMA 267 (13): 1810-2. PMID 1545466. 

[edit] External links

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