Ethics, Public Trust and The Medical Practice
Author: Gopalakrishnan R R, Sastra Deemed University.
Ethics is the set of moral principles that guide a person’s actions and behaviour. Medical ethics is that branch of ethics which scrutinizes clinical medicine practice and research. It is a set of guidelines which, a practitioner in cross roads may refer. It is often the deciding authority in most life and death cases. Another crucial concept in the medical arena is ‘patient trust’, which is in some way, a by-product of the standard of medical ethics. In this article, we shall take a look at what medical ethics is, why it is important, and the changing dynamics of medical ethics as a result of modernisation. The technological and scientific advancements in the current century have been a boon to millions of people. But, the medical professionals are faced with a new set of challenges and difficulties. The physicians increasingly feel the need to match the advancements with the moral dimensions. So often, they are faced with ethical and moral dilemmas. To add to this, ethical standards are very dynamic in nature. What was considered as ethical yesterday may not be so today, and what is unethical today might turn into an ethical practice tomorrow.
Medical Ethics: An Overview
The World Medical Association has been taking tremendous effort in laying the ethical platform of the medical professional. From the ‘Declaration of Geneva’ to the ‘International Code of Medical Ethics’, it has constantly strived to outline what ethics is as far as the medical community is. These documents put forward what medical ethics is and the universally applicable and accepted ethical principles. It also has tried to define the medico-legal state of affairs across the globe. The question which arises here is; what is medical ethics and why is it important?
More often than not, ethics is understood to be avoiding harm, which is not true in its entirety. It is more of a moral reasoning of actions. Medical ethics require the doctor to do what is in the best of interests to the patient and to subordinate his or her interest to that of the patient’s. It is a set of norms, principles and values which tries to govern the medical professionals. It is very crucial to maintain an ethical and moral standard when it comes to health care. Following ethical standards will help attaining the aim of health care, i.e. to reduce suffering. If the ethical practice of recruiting competent professionals is followed and sufficient training is given, ultimately there will be minimal errors. Medical ethics promotes good relations and communication between the medical professionals and patients. This goes a long way in promoting public confidence in the medical industry. Ethically obedient professionals reflect positively on the society and promote social responsibility, patients’ welfare and healthy work environment.
Some of the globally accepted ethical practices are:
- The medical professionals should respond for emergency and military services.
- They should report suspicious new diseases to the respected authority.
- They should report cases of poisoning, of suspicious deaths.
- The medics should notify the births and deaths.
- They should treat and maintain professional relations with patients.
- Request consent of a patient before medical examination.
- They should never ignore cases of emergency and accidents.
- They have a voluntary duty to conduct medicolegal examinations.
Even though there are outright ethical guidelines, most are seldom followed. This has resulted in medical trust being a paradox. Even though most of the patients trust their doctors and medical staff personally, the public confidence in the medical industry is depleting by the day. It is very important that this trust is regained and rebuilt. The main reason for such depletion in public trust had been commercialisation. The connection between the doctors and the pharmaceutical industry is another area of criticism. Media has played a crucial role in turning the focus light into the dark areas of covering up mistakes and incompetence within the industry. Also, the feeling that the medical professionals milk the patients for cash further adds to the dismay. The only way to restore the public confidence in the industry as a whole is by sticking with the ethical standards and moral standards. The medical community has to show by actions, to the public, that they can be trusted. A compassionate relationship between a doctor and a patient can benefit both. The patient will feel confident and the doctor’s minor lapses may be forgiven by him. The relationship will also ensure that the patient follows the doctor’s suggestions.
Another interesting development regarding medical ethics and the professionals is the concept of ‘medical humanitarianism’. Medical humanitarianism concept intertwines medical ethics to humanitarianism for the ultimate benefit of all. A section of the medical community feels that an ethical reasonable understanding of the health needs of the uneducated communities is crucial to fix the global healthcare system. Factors such as poverty should not affect the quality of medical treatment a person receives. Global organisations which can afford to should help these people spread all around the globe in times of crisis. Political factors are a major concern because it may direct the aids received in favour of a particular section of the society and play vote bank.
Medical Ethics and the Law
While law is an obligation on the part of the person upon whom it is imposed, medical ethics is more of a social factor. Non compliance of a law may result in punishment. On the other hand, there is no competent authority to impose ethics. Ethics is concerned about social values. What is considered immoral today may have been moral four hundred years ago, and what is considered as moral today, might become immoral in another four hundred years. Thus, while it is important for the medical practitioners to understand the legal aspects of their profession, so is it important to understand and stand by the ethical aspect.
For a successful health care industry in a country, trust of the patients in the medical professionals is of utmost importance. As the technological advancements and commercialisation drive had a home run in the industry, a section of the practitioners were blindfolded by the amount of money they can make and public confidence was deserted. Being such a crucial industry, this cannot be the case. Many professionals are increasingly acting against this malpractice. The only way that this can be brought under control is by re-instigating medical ethics and guidelines, and ensuring that it is strictly adhered to. As of today, there are many global documents which outline what medical ethics are, but none which enforces it. The adverse effect of a global medical law is felt while discussing the issue. We can only hope that a global medical law is formulated, which governs all of the medical community and provides safeguard against medical malpractice and unethical act.