Ethics are the principles of right and wrong that guide how a person behaves in the world. Right and wrong can vary between different people because of different beliefs and value systems which is when ethical dilemmas arise and can produce a lot of stress. One person may believe euthanasia is acceptable as a means of mercy for a terminally ill patient whereas another may believe it is wrong because of the absolute sanctity of life. Circumstances, culture, religions, and upbringing can influence one’s beliefs and it is important to study ethics and apply it so that people may do more of what is right and less of what is wrong.
Ethics and Morality
Although ethics and morality seem similar, there are fundamental differences between them. Ethics is guided more by universal values derived from philosophy and wisdom whereas morality is a code of conduct expected of people which is largely influenced by culture and religion. A code of conduct can be defined as the way people are expected to behave in a society according to the standards of right and wrong (Pozgar, 2016). Ethics can be considered universal whereas morality can be considered relative to the society in which one belongs to. Conformity to rules is the norm when it comes to making moral judgments. A group of people will look upon a person with disdain if they do not adhere to those rules because it has been accepted by that group to be the right code of conduct.
Ethics and Legality
However, codes of conduct can be formally written into law so that whoever does not follow them will be tried and punished criminally if deemed guilty. Laws are a culmination of many people’s discourse with ethics and morality through time that ultimately become written as law. This then becomes enforced by government bodies, otherwise they are subject to regulators and law enforcers. It is said that “law floats in a sea of ethics” (Pozgar, 2016). This points to the notion that ethics is often hotly debated because of people’s differing beliefs and values and after the debate is when the right code of conduct is set in stone as law. The population or government has voted to put this into law so that the people have an official standard to uphold and a person can be put to trial if they do not uphold those laws.
Ethics in the Medical World
In the medical world, ethics can sometimes be easily applied because most healthcare professionals have the best interest of the patients in mind which makes applying the ethical principle of beneficence simpler. However, there are other times when ethics is difficult to apply such as when a patient has a DNR status and is in cardiac arrest but the nurse may still be tempted to perform CPR. The nurse has to respect the patient’s autonomy but may feel like she is being maleficent toward the patient and doing harm. This can cause tremendous stress for the nurse.
Another example is when mental health professionals feel they are coercing a patient for their own good (Hem, 2016). Many times the mentally ill population are impaired in their decision making which put them as harm to themselves or others. In these cases, the autonomy of the patient is sacrificed for their own benefit. The patient may see this as maleficence, or harm to themselves, because they have rights which are being violated due to discrimination or false imprisonment. However, a counterargument to this is that the healthcare organization may be seen as defending their own right to profit from the patient’s hindered autonomy because of the increasing marketisation of healthcare services (Therese, 2018). Depending on the payout structure, keeping the patients in the institution could prove profitable for the company. Justice in this case is questioned. There could be a conflict of interest between the organization’s interest of making a profit and controlling market share versus the client’s interest of getting better and leaving the hospital as soon as possible.
One could make ethical decisions according to the utilitarian theory of ethics by seeing locking the patient up as beneficial to society because of the prevented consequence that the patient may harm other members of society or themselves. Utilitarian theory of ethics can be defined as making the right decision based on the consequences of those actions for the greater good of the greater population (Pozgar, 2016). It is practical in its philosophy because the decision is not based on beliefs or values but it based on something tangible that affects real world people.
Ethical dilemmas such as these are hotly debated and it is important to study ethics to make proper decisions. This is especially so in healthcare because people’s lives are on the line and the risk to their health whether permanent or not can be seriously affected. Still, an organization that upholds the highest of ethical standards stands to gain a good reputation among the community it serves, not just for its own sake, but also for the good of the people. In this way ethics and morality can create a peaceful life for people. To learn more, click here to get an introductory course on how to live a more peaceful life.
Pozgar, G. D. (2016). Legal and ethical issues for health professionals (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Hem, M. H. (2016). Ethical challenges when using coercion in mental healthcare: A systematic literature review. University of Oslo.
Therese, F. (2018). Marketisation, Ethics and Healthcare: Policy, Practice an Moral Formation. Routledge.