Medical Ethics & the Moral Compass

Tomorrow, I’ll be taking part in the annual Professionalism lecture for the first year students of the UBC Medical School. The students are given a series of scenarios that they will discuss in small breakout sessions before returning to the Life Sciences lecture theatre.

They’ll share  their responses to fictional dilemmas they may well confront in the near future. How should you respond when a friend or family member asks for medical advice? What do you do when a teacher isn’t practicing medicine according to the best guidelines? What is your duty if a classmate or colleague is impaired? Can a physician have a personal relationship with a patient?

I’m part of a small panel of physicians who will share our responses with the students.

The public (and some physicians) think of medical ethics as an academic exercise or a expert consultation for the rare and most difficult dilemmas. I think of ethics as the foundation of all that we do.

The best course of action for a particular patient is not solely based on the diagnosis and clinical practice guidelines. The choice must be a thoughtful balance of the potential risks and benefits of potential treatments from the patient’s personal perspective.

The question is not “How do we treat this disease?” but rather “What course of action is best aligned with this patient’s values and goals?”

The latest medications, high tech procedures, the scalpel, the stethoscope and even our own words are but tools. The principles of medical ethics guides us in using those tools appropriately for the good of the patient.

And in our efforts to do good, we must be ever wary to do no harm.



About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
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