The ethical dilemmas of medicine

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(Piron Guillaume, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Dr. Unsa Athar graduated from King Edward Medical University, Lahore in 2018. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


A few years ago, I used to believe that morality is subjective. Every individual must decide for himself or herself what is right or wrong. But turns out, as you grow and mature, you also realize the fault in your previous point of views. There is some absolute right and absolute wrong in this world.

There has to be a yardstick with which our actions are compared. This is the very reason ‘Ethics’ is a subject tested heavily on licensing examinations for doctors.  Questions are asked which do have a right answer!

This brings us to the one of the most complicated issues health-care providers have to face. Ethics. Morality. What is the ethical way to making a health-care decision? Is this treatment or approach ethical?

Does empathy conform to the rules of ethics? These were some practical questions that came to my mind while working as a junior doctor. In the new technological age of medicine, ethical discussions need to be given more importance than ever. Specially belonging to a developing country, where the resources are scarce and sickness in abundance, how do I make decisions that are best not only for my patients but also every patient visiting the hospital? Was I prepared for the practical ethical dilemmas during my medical school?

No, sir. I had one strip and two patients that needed their glucose levels checked. One a child of 11 years and the other a man aged 45, also a father of two. Which one do I prioritize?

While working in the clinical field, dilemmas like these are solved by a judgement call based purely on a clinician’s reflex. And these reflexes have to be inculcated in them during their medical school training. From the very beginning, along with memorizing the names of all the muscles in the body, students should also be exposed to the raw human emotions a doctor has to deal with on a daily basis.

A beloved professor of mine used to take his students with him to the ward rounds. After the round, in the class, instead of discussing the diseases and the treatments, he used to discuss the flaws that the students witnessed in terms of empathy and morality.

For students like me who always had this notion that being ethical meant being empathic, life soon became hell in the hospital corridors. I showed empathy towards each and every patient, confusing it with ethics, which led to the destruction of my own mental health. And what I learnt was that I indeed had to cram treatment guidelines and read recent research articles.

But I also had to ask, search and find for myself and my peers the right solution to a problem that cannot be solved by medicine. In conclusion, the need of the hour is to incorporate teaching and testing all kinds of ethical scenarios right from pre-clinical years to ensure that students make the right ethical choice at the time of need just as reflexively as they started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a patient with no pulse.

About the author

Dr. Unsa Athar graduated from King Edward Medical University, Lahore in 2018.  She has worked as an intern for a year. She loves using various platforms to express her opinions through the written word. She often writes for US-Magazine, The News International. She believes that by dialogue and discussion, we can bring about the much-needed change in our health-care systems. Along with pursuing her post-graduation goals, she is also keen in using advocacy to make doctors’ life better all over the world.

 

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