Understanding medical ethics
Moral thinking is embedded within cultures, and we use ethics all the time in our dealings with one another. Many functioning communities tend to share some values that reflect a particular view of the importance of human life in quantity and quality. Rights and duties form an interconnected network of obligations that protect the security of individuals and groups. In health care, the motives and virtues of practitioners are important sources of the determination to provide care for the ill within the limits of resource constraints. Ethics and the law have similarities, but also significant differences that may cause tension between the two systems. Health care is morally grounded, and provides a bulwark against the widespread fear of disease and suffering. The way in which health care is delivered depends on both national wealth and community values. Ethical problems can be seen as dilemmas, in which there are conflicting values. Modern ethical thinking in health is complicated by the need to consider the values and interests of many stakeholders - patients, heal th care workers, families, politicians, administrators, health bureaucrats and many others. There are ways of ethical thinking that take account of these often countervailing interests. No universally 'right' answers can be specified. The mode and the thoroughness of ethical consideration, and the careful consideration of local community values, will help to assure that we make the best possible decisions for the time and place.