The ethical question is always preceded by a dilemma of action one must decide upon. Perhaps, the most arduous cases arise during the professional practice of individuals that deal with the outcomes of one’s life, such as the juridical system or the medical field. Regardless of the fact that the sense of ethics differs from person to person, the existence of the universal consensus on this matter cannot be denied. This notion becomes more pronounced when the instance deals with the preservation of human life or the end of suffering. In situations that demand an intervention led by ethics, the immediate and universally correct answer is required of the professional. Although, in most cases, the answer of what the right thing to do is decided intuitively, there are certain cases that present no opportunity for a simple ethical solution.
The State of Ethical Education at MCC Thunderbird Hospital
Medical professionals are often presented with difficult decisions of deciding the outcome of a person’s life or well-being, they must have a set of core and well-defined ethical values to deal with the hard choices that arise. The state of ethical education at MCC Thunderbird hospital can be considered excellent, as “one of the prevailing opinions in medical ethics is a commitment to patient’s autonomy” (Boone, 2017, p. 264). The staff of the hospital exemplified this ethical principle perfectly. The objective of the present research is to view the case study in all of its details to understand their decision and to assess its quality.
The Patient’s Health Background
The case study for the present research, Michael James, is suffering from a wide range of deteriorations in his body. As shown in the MCC Thunderbird Hospital Ethics Committee Request, he was exposed to radiation, which left serious burns and hair loss on his body. He is also experiencing severe pain as some of his organs become dysfunctional, and his wounds do not heal since he lacks white blood cells altogether. The possibility of skin cancer is high; however, his situation would not be as difficult if Michael’s DNA structure was not damaged. The medical staff is able to start intensive treatment of Michael, however, the failure of skin-repairing function, as well as DNA damage, do not give him a chance for a long life free of suffering. The doctors are only able to keep the patient alive but are unable to relieve him of the intense pain. Michael cannot bear it anymore and requests the procedure of euthanasia; while his parents – and here the main dilemma arises – wish to prolong their son’s life.
The Nature of the Ethical Dilemma
The ethical dilemma that the medical staff is facing in the current case study of Michael James is called Hedonism versus Utilitarianism. It deals with the problem of moral hedonism, a doctrine in which “every human action ought to be motivated by the pursuit of pleasure”, with pleasure being the absence of pain (Notes on hedonism and utilitarianism, n.d.). Its conflicting counterpart, utilitarianism, can be described as “the good that produces the greatest amount of happiness in the greatest number of people” (Notes on hedonism and utilitarianism, n.d.). Thus, in the particular case, one can see that the patient’s wishes and the desire of his family to keep him alive at all costs contradict, and no compromise can be found.
Here, the importance of ethical standards of the doctors come into play – and it is upon inspecting cases like Michael’s becomes apparent the significance of ethics in the healthcare industry. Theoretically, both choices seem to be right, with the utilitarian approach coinciding with the Hippocratic oath, “first, do no harm,” and fulfills the wishes of the patient’s family members (Boone, 2021, p. 262). The hedonistic way is also right because of the pain that the patient is enduring. One should not forget about patient autonomy, which is concerned with the freedom of the person to do with their body whatever they want (Boone, 2021, p. 264). The grey area of the concept of “help” is what makes this choice so difficult and prone to the judgment of others whatever the outcome.
Other Cases Dealing with the Dilemma
One of the real-life examples similar to Michael James’ case is outlined in a study by Zhang et al. (2021), and it deals with a 22-year-old pregnant woman, Ms. L. She was administered to a Beijing Chaoyang Hospital on her ninth month of pregnancy. Upon inspecting her condition, the medical staff suggested immediate cesarean intervention for the reason that Ms. L had developed severe pneumonia (Zhang et al., 2021). This suggestion was refused by her cohabitor, who insisted on a traditional delivery in spite of the doctors explaining to him that it was not possible in Ms. L’s situation. The patient soon went into a coma, and even after hours of persuasion by the medical staff, Mr. X – the woman’s cohabitor – signed the papers denying the surgery for Ms. L. As a result, both the woman and her unborn child soon died despite the efforts.
Another case is described in the same study by Zhang et al. (2021), also dealing with a pregnant woman, Ms. V. She gave birth to a healthy baby; however, she had lost a lot of blood and needed a transfusion, which she and her husband persistently refused for religious reasons. The doctors explained to them that Ms. V would definitely die if she does not receive a blood transfusion, however, Ms. V and her husband continued to refuse it. The hospital had to file a request to the court concerning Ms. V’s case; eventually, the court allowed for the blood transfusion, and the woman was given blood without consenting to it.
A crucial question in medical ethics – concerning who is allowed to decide whether to receive or refuse the suggested treatment. If it is a patient—then the medical staff filing Ms. V’s case to the court committed a crime by saving her life. If it is the patient’s relatives and close ones, then it is unclear why Mr. L’s cohabitor was allowed to intentionally kill her and her child. Ultimately, it is the medical staff who has the final word – and they should be equipped with the knowledge of ethics and morality to make that choice.
The author’s personal opinion is such that the patient should always be able to decide their own destiny. If they wish to have euthanasia or not receive life-saving treatment, they ought to have their right to be respected. As has been mentioned before, commitment to the patient’s autonomy is incredibly important – a person’s right to deal with their body as they wish. In support of this idea, Michael James’ case is particularly illustrative. No one but himself has the idea of the kind of pain that he is experiencing every moment that he lives. Regardless of his family wishing him good, they cannot fathom his condition from his perspective.
Ethical dilemmas, being particularly abundant in their most complex forms in health care, demand medical workers to be equipped with the right ethical education. Complex cases imposing no obvious solution are going to arise during their practice, as the present research shows. When they do, there is nothing that the doctor can count upon, despite their own sense of morality and ethics – hence, education on the subject is of major importance.
Boone, Brian. (2021). Ethics 101: From altruism and utilitarianism to bioethics and political ethics. Adams Media.
Notes on hedonism and utilitarianism. (n/d). People Tamu Edu.
Zhang, H. et al. (2021). Patient privacy and autonomy: a Comparative analysis of ethical dilemmas in China and the United States. BMC Medical Ethics, 22(8), pp. 1-8.