“Good People Doing Bad Things for Good Reasons”
What is ethical or not is often in the eye of the beholder. That is why often the ethics of decisions or acts that we deal with in medicine is established through the process of consensus. And I don’t necessarily mean consensus by only scholars, lawyers or ethicists or even physicians. I think in ethical consensus the many voices of society should be included. I think that an understanding of reason for the divergent views that may occur in ethical analysis can be expressed by what Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine has said in the past. Perhaps you have already have heard it.“Ethical violations are usually not a case of bad people doing bad things for no good reason, it is usually the case of good people doing bad things for good reasons.” If it were bad people, bad things and bad reasons, there would be no ethical conflicts. The question is whether the acts of those good people carried out for those good reasons best meet the principles of ethics for that particular issue.
Many times in clinical ethics, we find that all of the stakeholders of an issue have meritorious reasons to base their suggested actions. There also may be a meeting of an ethical principle for each action so that there is no strictly unethical violation. The problem arises when one action is inconsistent with another action and we have to decide which act and its ethics trumps another. But trumping may mean that some stakeholders may lose. Therefore, those of us who perform the responsibilities of the hospital ethics committee must remember that we are dealing with good people who have good reasons and perhaps their intended actions are not even that bad except in light of the context of the issue. One of the tools the ethics committee has in this case is compromise. Sometimes compromise mitigates the conflict if even only temporarily. Though it may be only a band-aid in making an ethical solution, it often permits time to get the parties together on a final decision.If,as an example,the issue is end-of-life decision-making and family members are in conflict as to whether enough time has elapsed, on treatment, to be assured that the patient will not recover, a compromise can be often reached. Those of us “doing ethics” should always temper our dogmatic views, if we carry them, to realize that generally we are dealing with good people and their good reasons.. and the “bad” things they may want to do is often just “relatively bad” ..Maurice.