Ethical Dilemmas and Modern Medicine: Questions Nobody Wants to Ask

Jacob Appel – Brown University

Medical Ethical Questions, Dilemmas & Issues

The same medical technologies that have brought us miracle drugs and unprecedented longevity are also forcing us to confront increasingly difficult ethical dilemmas. Should taxpayers spend several million dollars to prolong one patient’s life for one month? Can genes be patented? How ought judges respond when doctors and family members disagree on the very definition of death? May a seventeen-year-old boy refuse to give a life-saving bone marrow transplant to his fifteen-year-old cousin? Thirty years ago, debates in medical ethics focused on the same questions that had once puzzled Hippocrates and Galen many centuries earlier. When does life begin? When may confidentiality be broken? Must a physician help a stranger in need?

Ethical Issues In Modern Medicine

Today, most challenges in bioethics arise from two relatively novel sets of issues: 1.) conflicts over scarce healthcare resources and 2.) the desire of philosophical and religious minorities to be opt out of established medical norms. How society ultimately resolves these questions is not simply an abstract matter for debate by philosophers and ethicists. Rather, the outcome of these controversies is likely to affect each and every one of us when we or our loved ones become ill. This lecture will examine some paradigmatic recent cases in the field of bioethics and will offer students a framework for analyzing future cases on their own.

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