Sunday, July 31, 2011

Philosophy and the behavioral science of decision making

I was reading an article today that brought up a very interesting conundrum.  What should you do if the law, professional ethics, and/or your personal morals disagree?  Which one takes precedence?  The article concerned medical caregivers.  They focused on what to do when the decision based on your personal morals would benefit the patient but the decision based on your professional ethics would benefit the hospital.  Or if the decision based on professional ethics would benefit yourself, but the decision based on your personal morals would benefit the patient.  There are many different possible combinations.

One example is palliative care.  The law says that you can’t give patients drugs that don’t benefit their health.  The Hippocratic Oath says basically the same thing.  But what if the dose of morphine that would ease the patient’s pain would make their medical condition worse and hasten their death?  The law says you can’t do it, your morals might say that you should do it, and medical ethics are currently debating the subject and so are unclear.  The hospital might have a policy that is murky also, or may be designed to cover their legal butts. 

This is the kind of question I think I could sit with a handful of thoughtful friends around a table and debate for hours over a few bottles of wine or pots of cappuccino.  And enjoy every minute of it.

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