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Doctor Ethics Survey: What Would Your MD Do?

Nov. 19, 2012 -- What would your doctor do in a tricky ethical situation?

Medscape, WebMD's physician web site, recently surveyed 24,000 doctors to find out. They asked doctors how they'd handle a wide range of ethical dilemmas, including sex with patients, assisted suicide, abortion, end-of-life care, and dealing with terminal illness.

Some of their answers may surprise you. Here's what Medscape heard from doctors in a wide range of medical specialties:

Lying to Patients

If a patient wants a treatment that his or her doctor believes isn't needed, would the doctor ever prescribe a fake treatment? Yes: 34%. No: 48%. It depends: 18%.

If it would "bolster their spirit," would doctors not tell patients about a fatal illness? One in 10 doctors (10%) said they would, while 18% said it depends on the situation. Most doctors (72%) said they always tell it like it is.

Should doctors always admit making mistakes, even if the mistake caused no harm? Most doctors (63%) said they'd come clean. But 16% said they'd cover up their error, and 21% said, "It depends."

Assisted Suicide

When asked if physician-assisted suicide should be allowed in some situations, 47% of doctors said "yes," 40% said "no," and 13% said, "It depends."

Defensive Medicine

Would your doctor perform an unnecessary operation or other procedure just because not doing it might result in a malpractice lawsuit?

A whopping 23% of doctors said they would. Just over half (55%) said they would not, but 22% said, "It depends."

Intensive Care for Dying Newborns

This is possibly the hardest question in the survey: Is it right to provide intensive care to a newborn who will either die soon or survive but have an objectively terrible quality of life? Yes: 34%. No: 27%. It depends: 39%.

Sex With Patients

Is it ever OK for a doctor to have sex with a patient?

Only 1% of doctors think so, if the person is still a patient. Another 22% think it's OK if they wait until six months after the person stops being a patient. And 9% say, "It depends." The other 68% say it's never OK.

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