Ethics in Healthcare

Provision of quality healthcare is paramount for a healthy and productive population. The field of medicine has well outlined principles and standards that are expected of all the professionals and specialists in the healthcare sector. In the United States, a significant percentage of the healthcare industry is under private operators (Boyle, 2001). The nature of services as well as how they are offered become of much interest for everyone in order to avoid any instances of unethical practices in the name of healthcare.

All medical professionals should uphold their commitment to adhere to the ethical obligations and values as provided in the course of their training. The essay discusses some of the major components of bioethics in healthcare. It gives examples in clinical practices that may be viewed as unethical with reference to the current nursing standards.

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Ethics entails the enhancement of right actions and good things by members of any given profession. It basically refers to the standards and actions that are expected of a group as provided in the profession’s code of ethical conduct. These actions are usually stipulated in the code of ethics for any given field although some may be at a personal level or unwritten (Morrison & Monagle, 2009).

Ethical concerns in healthcare have been in existence for a considerably long period of time. Ethics in healthcare may be regarded as social ethics due to the fact that it is generally based on an enduring ideal of committed service.

The first component of ethics in healthcare, just like in any other science, is beneficence. It refers to the physician’s discretion in handling the patient. This component obliges medical experts to make informed judgments as far as treatment of a patient is concerned (Drane, 2004).

The professionals are expected “to help and not to harm” by making value judgments. Physician beneficence has been in existence for a long time now but of late it has been challenged by the coming into effect of new ethical concerns in the medical field, especially in America.

Under this component, a physician should make value judgments about the patient in the course of treatment and not just relying solely on scientifically determined judgments (Morrison & Monagle, 2009). For instance, in the current nursing standards, a physician should not recommend treatment that will be harmful, risky or useless for the patient regardless of whether the patient “asked for it” or the physician decided so.

The second component is patient autonomy which refers to the right of a patient to give an informed consent in the course of treatment (Drane, 2004). In essence, it entails the right to refuse a given form of treatment and, on the other hand, the right to demand a treatment from among the options justifiable in the medical profession. This component has over the past three decades become a threat to physician beneficence.

However, the physician’s professional training in ethics limits the right of a patient to demand or refuse a given form of medically justifiable treatment option especially where patient competence is an issue (Beauchamp, 1999). For instance, it would be unethical for a physician to impose a treatment that, in respect to the patient’s values, is highly risky, shameful, burdensome, painful or extremely costly.

However, it would also be unethical if a physician obliges to a patient’s refusal of ordinary treatment particularly if their refusal may result in serious health problems or even death.

The third component of ethics is justice. It refers to the equitable distribution of resources in the healthcare industry (Drane, 2004). There are two distinct parts of this principle; the first is individual justice where each patient is entitled to their own justice in the course of treatment while the second is distributive justice where physicians are obliged to address the needs of a larger group of people for the common good (Beauchamp, 1999).

These two sub-components have always been in conflict due to clashing interests in the distribution of resources. It would be unethical, for example, to take generalized options that would jeopardize individual interests and vise versa.

The last component in bioethics is non-maleficence which is closely related with beneficence. Under this principle, physicians are obliged to make effort not to harm the patient in the course of treatment (Drane, 2004). It is guided by the traditional call upon medical practitioners to “first do no harm”.

This component, however, may be viewed as being in conflict with that of beneficence. For instance, it would be unethical for a physician to choose to do nothing in order to avoid harming the patient. This is because good/beneficial actions that may be risky within acceptable limits for the patient will have been left out hence escalating the problem.

References

Beauchamp, G. R. (1999). “The correct application of ethical components to resolve issues in values.” Journal of Medical Science, 1 (2): 40-42

Boyle, P. (2001). Ethics in healthcare: principles, cases, and pragmatic solutions. John Wiley and Sons

Drane, J. F. (2004). Understanding clinical bioethics: theory and practice in medical decision-making (3rd ed). Rowman & Littlefield

Morrison, E. E. & Monagle, J. F. (2009). A handbook of healthcare ethics: issues for the 21st century (2nd ed). Jones & Bartlett Learning

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