Ethical issues have been an integral part of healthcare since Hippocrates formulated his eponymous oath in the fourth century B.C., but the questions just keep getting more complex as the science, business and public policy of medicine charge forward and blend.
The original oath reportedly prohibited abortions and cautioned doctors to leave specialized surgery to the specialists. Somewhat revised and updated in 1964, the oath continues to tackle eternal issues such as patient privacy. But as medicine becomes more sophisticatedâ€”and costlyâ€”practicing the oath will not be as simple as taking it.
Richard Cohan, vice president of corporate responsibility at Exempla Healthcare in Denver, says he sees compliance as the third piece of the ethical conundrum that healthcare grapples with on a daily basis. In the decades to come, he predicts it will be natural for hospitals to think about organizational ethics, medical ethics and compliance, "and how interrelated they are to each other." For example, a medical error is not a simple mistake to be corrected. An organization must think about disclosure and truthfulness to the patient, while clinicians will grapple with the potential harm to the patient as well as the patient's right to know.
Issues involving the beginning and end of life are never going to go away, Cohan says, but the broader question will be "What does it mean to be a human being?"