Monday, September 8, 2008

Dr. Bernstein Invites Us to "Play Ethicist"

You don’t have to sell yourself as an ethicist in order to “play" an ethicist, suggesting answers to hypothetical cases. My view, previously expressed on this blog, is that most every awake and interested person has the capacity based on their own knowledge, experience and viewpoint, to play ethicist and make a significant contribution toward resolution of an ethical dilemma.

Just to demonstrate the validity of my view, I have created 4 potential ethical dilemmas and request my visitors to play ethicist pretending that you are faced with the issue and have the responsibility of talking to the doctor, patient or family member about what you would suggest as a solution to the dilemma. By the way, in attempting to solve an ethical dilemma, it is essential that the ethicist or “play ethicist” make sure that they have all the facts of the case needed to help resolve the dilemma. Without the necessary facts, one cannot generally make an ethical decision. Try these hypothetical cases out and then write and let me know your answers to the questions and your decisions... Maurice.

1. A 65 conscious man on a ventilator for life support tells the doctor, by writing a note, that he wants the ventilator turned off. The doctor knows that if she turns off the ventilator the patient will die in a few minutes. What further information would you need to know in order to advise the doctor whether what is requested by the patient is ethical and legal?

2. A baby born 6 days ago without a brain but with a brain stem that is allowing the baby to breathe and maintain blood pressure has developed pneumonia. The mother insists that the doctor treat the pneumonia. The father wants the doctor to allow the child to die. What would you recommend to the parents and the doctor?

3. Two children one age 5 and the other age 7 were born with a genetic disorder which limits their life to less than 15 years. The mother is again 2 months pregnant and asks the doctor for advice as to what to do. However, the doctor holds moral views and by religion is against abortion. What would you advise how the doctor should respond to the mother?

4. A father brings into the emergency room his 3 year old child for a bloody nose but is found by the doctor to have a fresh bruise on the left buttock and right shoulder. What facts should the doctor know before breaking patient confidentiality rules and report these findings to governmental authorities as suspected child abuse?

(You may email Maurice Bernstein at

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