As an industry dealing with medical applications, technologies, and services to ensure human health, the health care industry must ensure that its practices are in line with medical, legal, and ethical standards to avoid compromises on the part of the health care practitioners. Specifically in medical practice, dealing with human lives is a serious matter and thus, careful considerations must be made when a decision is required.
Although the medical practice is such an objective science, ethical issues are not. The current status of medical practice in the US is such that practitioners are confronted with a highly dynamic setting in which precedents must be reviewed from time to time in order to come up with decisions or solutions for each problem. A patient refusing treatment, a doctor choosing not to disclose full information to a client, or a family deciding for an incapable patient are just some of the examples wherein decisions need to be carefully evaluated. Let us take a look at two of the prevailing ethical issues in medical practice.
The Patient Bill of Right and the Right to Refuse/Accept Treatment Based on an Informed Decision
Adopted by the American Hospital Association or the AHA, the Patient Bill of Right states that a patient possesses the right to be informed of the medical consequences of his or her actions and decisions and refuse treatment to the extent permitted by the law. First, the concept of full disclosure has been advocated to ensure that the patient, as long as he or she is cognizant and capable of arriving at sound decisions, be accorded the power to decide on whether a medical option must be chosen. It is proper for practitioners to ensure that patients are provided all the necessary information to make a decision. For example, undergoing a gastric bypass surgery is risky so the patient must be informed of all possible consequences to ensure that his or her decision is an informed one.
The ethical issue here arises when the patient is deemed “incapable” of deciding for himself or herself which option is the best. This is true in cases wherein patients are senile, suffering from mental illnesses, or are comatose. Who gets to decide in such cases? Although patients are accorded the right to accept or refuse treatment, isn’t it true that doctors actually know better in terms of what could be the best decision for their patients? Such questions surround medical decisions resulting in a variety of ethical and moral considerations in coming up with a decision.
This is a classic dilemma pitting the notion of ensuring human health versus safeguarding the business interests of pharmaceutical companies. It is true that physicians and the pharmaceutical industry share a common interest in promoting medical knowledge; however, this common interest ends when the business interest of the pharmaceutical industry is factored in. Since a physician must operate under the principles of beneficence, non-malfeasance, and patient autonomy, they must, in the context of product promotion, ensure that these principles are upheld before considering the benefit of the pharmaceutical companies.