Doctors Answer Tough Ethical Questions
In Ethical Dilemma, What Would Your Doctor Do? Frank Answers From Real MDs
Nov. 10, 2010 -- Would doctors help patients die if they asked? Would they have sex with a patient? Would they cover up a mistake that harmed a patient?
These are three of 21 tough ethical questions answered by more than 10,000 doctors in a Medscape survey released today. Medscape is WebMD's web site for medical professionals.
"What came through loud and clear in the survey is that by and large, doctors try to do what they believe is right," Steven Zatz, MD, executive vice president for WebMD Professional Services, says in a news release.
What's also clear is that doctors don't all agree on what is right.
For example, when asked if doctor-assisted suicide should ever be allowed, 41% gave a definitive "no" while 59% said "yes" or "it depends."
The survey kicks off Medscape's special series on medical ethics. Leading bioethics experts will weigh in on why the doctors answered the way they did -- and what this means for the future of medicine.
"Today's doctors face more frequent and more complex bioethical dilemmas than in former times," Thomas H. Murray, PhD, says in the news release. Murray is president of The Hastings Center, a bioethical research center in Garrison, N.Y.
The poll sampled doctors from a broad range of medical specialties, including pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, surgery, oncology, women's health, and family medicine.
Below is a sample of the survey results, with some typical -- and conflicting -- comments from doctors who answered the poll. You can see The full survey results here.
Should physician-assisted suicide be allowed in some cases?
- Yes, 45.8%
- No, 40.7%
- It depends, 13.5%
- "I'd want it for me when the need arises."
- "Assisted suicide is murder."
Could you become involved in a romantic/sexual relationship with a patient?
- Yes, while that patient is still a patient, 0.8%
- Yes, but not until at least 6 months after they stopped being a patient, 11.7%
- It depends, 4.5%
- No, 83.1%
- "It is totally exploitative and wrong."
- "I did, and 30 years later we are together and happy."
Would you ever recommend or give life-sustaining therapy when you judged that it was futile?
- Yes, 23.6%
- No, 37.0%
- It depends, 39.4%
- "Why waste money and time when results are nil?"
- "I would do this if I felt it would give the family time to accept the inevitability of death."
Are there times when it's acceptable to cover up or avoid revealing a mistake if that mistake would not cause harm to the patient?
- Yes, 19.0%
- No, 60.1%
- It depends, 20.9%
- "Cover-ups are never OK."
- "Why make a mountain out of a molehill if it will cause the patient more emotionally upset than simply not saying anything, as long as no physical harm has occurred?"