Medicina (Kaunas) 2007; 43 (12): 930-934
Issues of the practical value of ethics in healthcare
Department of Philosophy and Social Science, Kaunas University of Medicine, Lithuania
Key words: healthcare; patients; physicians; ethical collisions.
Summary. In November 2006, the “Journal of Medical Ethics” published an article where prominent medical specialists stated that medical ethics, as a teaching and a theory, has no practical value. The article was based on the physicians’ clinical experience and view that the theory of ethics has little in common with its application in daily practice and provides generalized guidelines for behavior, but is ineffective in decision-making in individual cases. At the same time, when describing conflict situations in healthcare, Lithuanian public press raises the role of ethics to the absolute and states that the lack or violation of ethics is the sole cause of all problems in healthcare, and there would be no problems if physicians behaved morally. From the viewpoint of an ethics professional, both controversial opinions deserve attention, and this paper is devoted to the analysis of these opinions.
Ethical collisions and conflicts emerging in providing healthcare are not signs of the helplessness of medical ethics. Both viewpoints the one disclaiming the role of medical ethics and the one attributing the absolute role to medical ethics are equally erroneous. Decisions of the society and physicians are aggravated by health policy and the organization of healthcare in the country, as well as by a concrete individual’s level of ethical thinking, worldview, and knowledge. Sometimes ethical collisions arise when there is a conflict among ethical principles themselves, and healthcare specialists have to decide which principle should be given priority. There are cases where setting priorities is impossible, and one has to admit that one single specialist is unable to solve the problem without his/her colleagues’ assistance. Collective and collegial professionals’ work helps to solve such ethical collisions.
Correspondence to Z. Liubarskienė, Department of Philosophy and Social Science, Kaunas University of Medicine, A. Mickevičiaus 9, 44307 Kaunas, Lithuania. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 11 September 2007, accepted 4 December 2007