A Publication of WTVP

When people hear the word "ethics" they tend to think in negative terms. That is too narrow of a perspective, but with the recent Enron and Arthur Andersen debacle it is easy to understand why that negative view persists.

In classical Greek philosophy, ethics was considered a positive good to be attained and achieved; for example, doing good in a good way made for happy people. Ethics is about good character and good decisions. Health care in the West is rooted in the Hippocratic tradition with its sense of duty, but also its professional fulfillment.

Living in today’s pluralist society doesn’t foster a common ethical theory. More collaboration is needed before there is consensus on norms, values, and happiness. For example, the Catholic Church and likewise, Catholic health care, does not support any form of assisted suicide. Yet the state of Oregon passed a law legalizing physician-assisted suicide, not making it ethical, but making it legal in that state.

All health care, regardless of the sponsoring organization, values human dignity. In fact, the five hospitals in the tri-County area all follow and support the standards of the Joint Commission of Accredited Healthcare Organizations. On the very first page of the Standards Manual, the Commission notes, "Patients have a fundamental right to considerate care that safeguards their personal dignity and respects their cultural, psychosocial, and spiritual values." The first page ends with "managing the hospital’s relationships with patients and the public in an ethical manner."

Jim Moore, OSF Healthcare System CEO, frequently states in presentations health care is the second most regulated area behind nuclear power plants. There are many checks and balances to make certain rules and regulations are followed by those of us in health care so we always do what is right. Recently, there has been a proliferation of newly-formed compliance departments in hospitals and corporate offices of health care systems to further ensure adherence to the vast number of rules and regulations (state and federal) under which health care entities operate.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was passed by Congress and will have many positive impacts on patients and providers; chief among them are specific mandates regarding patient confidentiality which compliance departments and many others in health care are actively planning to address in time for implementation by April 2003.

Another forum to ensure we in health care do what is right is the ethics committee. All hospitals have an ethics committee which can be accessed by patients, family members, and care providers to foster patient involvement or to discuss a concern or question. Maintaining and enhancing human dignity is one of the major guiding principles of ethics committees and health care in general.

Ethics is both ancient and contemporary, and continues to be an active mainstay in health care today. Ethics has an abiding place in health care—primarily among the professionals who encounter persons at times of their vulnerability. IBI