Why our doctors need a lesson in bioethics


In today’s era of globalization, mass consumption, cut-throat competition and materialism, the idea of right and wrong is often blurred and many people end up doing things that are completely against their professional principles.

People try to sell damaged goods, unhygienic commodities, harmful products and subpar services, just to earn more money in less time, with lesser efforts invested.

And sadly, the supposedly dubbed “noblest profession in the world” is no different.

Medical negligence has been making headlines for quite some time now and cases pertaining to drugs wrongly administered, pharmacists selling low-quality medicines just to increase sales and doctors showing little to no regard of human life, have become very evident. This situation is very alarming, keeping the utter lack of medical values in mind.

For any field to progress and do well, it needs to have a code of ethics which are followed vehemently and without any exceptions. And this is something that is majorly lacking in our professionals these days. Very few universities offer courses in ethics and even fewer teach it with the same sort of dedication that this field requires.

As a philosophy student, ethics have always been my area of interest – especially bioethics – and I find it infuriating that very few medical universities offer comprehensive courses on this topic.

Ethics decide the right way to do a particular thing – if I explain it in layman terms. It is a very important component for any discipline. It makes you ask hard-hitting questions that help in making a field better.

For example, are you sure the medicine you are taking is a cure and not a disease in itself? Are pharmaceutical companies genuinely making medicines or are they just making money for themselves? Can a doctor really treat us well in a government hospital if, let’s say, he has his own clinic elsewhere and he would rather treat patients there to earn more money?

Bioethics does not only deal with corruption, though. It also highlights issues that don’t usually have clear-cut answers.

For example, many people are familiar with the idea of doctor-patient confidentiality as an essential part of the professional code of ethics in medical and mental health fields. What you tell your doctor alternately psychologist is as far as anyone knows ensured data that can’t be shared with others, no matter how important revealing it may be. If a doctor does reveal it, then the patient can take legal action against him and there are many countries where this fundamental right is valued.

However, what if the patient is having suicidal thoughts and the doctor knows about it? What if the patient kills himself, with the doctor having full knowledge about his condition? What should a doctor do then – break the code and tell his family, or keep it intact and let fate play its course? In such cases, the doctor needs to break this code to help save a life. And here is where bioethics comes into play, as it validates a doctor’s decision to break a code of ethics.

Such is the complex nature of bioethics and medical students need to be trained well in order for them to make the right decisions.

In our universities, we hardly have courses for this. Universities must teach the importance of bioethics in such a way that student are able to practice it in anyway. It’s time to put this profession back on the pedestal and let it earn its name as the noblest field in the world.

About the author: Anum Fatima is a philosophy graduate from the University of Karachi.