“The purpose of human life is to serve and show compassion and have the will to help others.” – Albert Schweitzer
I have always wondered why Medical Ethics does not command the attention it deserves. In medical school, it is relegated to a minor subject in first year, where simply attending is enough to get a passing grade. While it is important to develop technical proficiency in the healing art, it is now becoming obvious that medical dilemmas mostly stem from ethical issues, not technical issues. This is because most medical societies have now created guidelines for sound management of disease. It is clear, however, that most guidelines cannot answer ethical questions.
A health care professional who does not humbly acknowledge the need to place the interest of patients first is not a true health care professional. Technical competency must therefore be balanced with sound character. One of the values that must be emphasized is integrity. From proper disclosure of medical findings to the conscientious assessment of professional fees, a medical professional must be trusted to make decisions based on the patient’s interest, not on the medical professional’s personal agenda.
This is easier said than done when the training of a medical professional focuses too much on science rather than character development. It is sad that the measurement of ability during board certification examinations is based almost entirely on the ability to manage and treat illness through diagnostic reasoning and drug therapy. Communication and ethical behavior are rarely evaluated.
Take the issue of end of life resuscitation, for example. While it is important to empower a patient’s relatives to make decisions in these instances, it is equally vital to provide adequate disclosure for the patient’s loved ones. Unfortunately, the skill of breaking bad news is not a common topic in medical education. In fact, I have yet to find it being asked during board examinations. In a profession where death and disability is equated to treatment failure, breaking bad news is not deemed to be an essential skill.
Ethical issues are increasing in frequency and complexity. It is high time for hospitals, physicians, nurses, caregivers, and allied medical personnel to give it the attention it deserves. Otherwise, it would become increasingly difficult to balance the need for improving the quality of care, containing medical costs, and ensuring the survival of healthcare institutions.