What is an Ethical Dilemma?
I see that a visitor had been directed to my blog from a web search engine with the question “What is an ethical dilemma?” I am not sure that I have defined this term previously. I would like to do so now. I found a definition noted by T.Y. Lee to which I agree. The examples below, however, are my own. Maybe a valuable mind game would be to think of some other examples.
“What is an ethical dilemma?” It is a Conflict between…
Ones PERSONAL and PROFESSIONAL values
A physician has a duty to his family (go to the football game) but he also has a duty to the patient (admit the patient to the hospital).
Two values/ethical PRINCIPLES
A patient has right to reject a treatment (autonomy) but a physician has a responsibility to protect the patient from a harmful decision (non-malificence)
Two possible actions, each with reasons strongly FAVORABLE and UNFAVORABLE
Treating the patient with a drug which though may have bad side-effects could possibly improve patient’s illness but by withholding the drug the patient has a possible chance of spontaneously improving and not be burdened by the bad side effects of a drug.
Two UNSATISFACTORY alternatives
The patient with terminal cancer who has stopped breathing will die quickly if nothing is done but his family would not be able to arrive soon enough to be with him before the patient’s death. However intubating the patient and putting the patient on a respirator will allow time for the family to come to visit him but only prolong an uncomfortable period of dying.
One’s VALUES/PRINCIPLES and one’s PERCEIVED ROLE
A physician has personal values that define abortion as immoral and yet as an obstetrician in a small community far from medical centers is now asked by a long-time patient to perform an abortion.
The need to ACT and the need to REFLECT
The psychiatrist suspects that his patient might commit a homicide and should notify authorities about his suspicion but he is uncertain that he should divulge to the authorities the patient’s private history without more proof of the patient’s intentions.
An important point about ethical dilemmas to carry away is that it is wise to try to avoid the situation, if possible, where they can occur but also one should be aware that not all ethical dilemmas if they do occur are settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Often in medical ethical dilemmas, it requires some consensus amongst the public and/or physicians, ethicists, lawyers and the courts to provide guidance.
I hope this posting helps those who wonder what are ethical dilemmas. ..Maurice.
ADDENDUM 9-2-2008: Those who would like to "play" ethicist and try to solve some hypothetical ethical dilemmas, after you have, if desired, read the comments or posted here, you may go to the "Ethical Dilemmas:Playing Ethicist: Almost Anyone Can Do It" thread.