Nowadays, ethics became a cornerstone of the medical business as it ensures sound and lawful practice. In general, ethics can be defined as a branch of philosophy that deals with moral principles that shape an individual’s behavior or decisions. Although one could use morality and ethics as interchangeable concepts, they are different by their origin. Morals are about referring to individual principles, while ethics is based on rules set by external sources, such as codes of conduct at work. In the same manner, the law is a set of rules imposed by the legislative authority that prohibits or requires particular behavior. In contrast, ethics is a more broaden concept that lays on general opinions and principles of society. In other words, ethics encompasses law prescriptions and social values to judge what is wrong and what is right.
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Medical ethics deals with the obligations of practitioners and the health facility to the patient. According to Markose et al. (2016), medical ethics guides the doctor’s conduct to make the right choice of what to do at a given time and under all the circumstances. Physicians have to consider four main principles of medical ethics: autonomy, beneficence, non-malfeasance, and justice. Healthcare practitioners face higher standards of ethics in medical settings than workers in other fields because any of their decisions can harm the health of patients or others around.
In the medical world, ethical decisions sometimes are easier to make with the help of a wide range of moral principles and everyday experiences. However, it is very often a process of deciding between the doctor’s and the patient’s value system, that conflicts (Zaidi, 2014). For instance, the eight-year-old boy was diagnosed with kidney failure due to streptococcus infection. The physician warranted an immediate treatment that required dialysis, but parents, who are very religious people, decided to forego this procedure. As a result, they came back in a week, and the clinical situation of their son deteriorated, so he needs to undergo a kidney transplant.
Now the physician has to deal with medical ethics, more precisely with autonomy and non-maleficence principles. The doctors are obliged to respect the medical decisions of adult and capable individuals what is the patient’s autonomy. Practitioners have to inform patients of their health issues, but not to coerce or control them, determining their choice.
In that case, the physician informed the parents of the patient, who are his authorized representatives, and gave them the opportunity to decide. However, after their second visit, the physician should consider the beneficence principle, which states that physicians are compelled to make judgments and choices that benefit their patients. Although parents are authorized to make decisions, the nephrologist, who is aware of their son’s risk of death, should put a limit on their autonomy to get in line with other principles. This example sheds light on the shortcomings of the current ethical system when there is a clash of two different value systems.
Under normative or deontological ethics, which assesses the conduct by compliance with the moral rules, the doctor has to follow the notion of autonomy and let the patient’s parents decide one more time. At the same time, under descriptive theory, he should apply his own values to judge what is right or wrong (Churchill et al., 2019). Following consequentialism and utilitarianism theories, the family can be persuaded to agree on the transplant, as it will lead to a positive outcome; thus, the autonomy can be violated. In general, ethics plays a crucial role within the healthcare field, as it regulates all the patient-doctor and staff interactions during the clinical care process.
Churchill, L. R., King, N. M., Schenck, D., & Walker, R. L. (2019). Ethics in Medicine. In J. Oberlander et al. (Eds.), The Social Medicine Reader, Volume I: Ethics and Cultures of Biomedicine (3rd ed., pp. 175-190). Duke University Press.
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Markose A., Krishnan R., & Ramesh M. (2016). Medical ethics. Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences, 8(5), 1-4. Web.
Zaidi, S. H. (2014). Ethics in medicine. Springer International Publishing.