Duty to Family and Friends
Otolaryngologists understand their ethical responsibilities to patients and profession, but they also have a moral obligation to their birth and extended families. We are not only responsible for protecting the patient from healthcare providers but also for protecting those individuals who mean the most to us in our lives. Elderly family members should be considered particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, but we must also protect children and pregnant women, as well as those whose comorbidities may make them more susceptible. How we prioritize duty and responsibility to patients versus family and friends is a very personal decision and should be respected as such.
Explore This IssueMay 2020
Duty to Law and Order
This is a time of ongoing adjustment for everyone, including physicians—our profession and our society haven’t seen this level of extreme measures for isolation, quarantine, shelter at home, practice restrictions, moratoria on elective surgery, and other mandates during most of our lifetimes. Most states have at the current writing time postponed all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary, and those guidelines continue to evolve.
Laws and ethics have much in common. In this very difficult time of temporary loss of individual rights for the greater good of society, physicians have many ethical duties, and among them is the duty to follow the law. The Texas Medical Board recently required any facility or individual with knowledge of violators of the governor’s non-urgent elective surgery and procedures order to promptly report said violators to the Medical Board. Penalties will be considered for the violator as well as for those who fail to report the violation. Violating a lawful order is committing both an ethical and a legal violation.
An otolaryngologist in this scenario who wishes to be ethically and professionally responsible realizes that caring for patients during an epidemic raises many ethical issues and dilemmas, some requiring ethical decision-making that is uniquely challenging. Ethical and moral conduct, along with compassion, empathy, and duty, will be her pathway.
Dr. Holt is professor emeritus and clinical professor in the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.