Last month, I wrote about the Christian Medical and Dental Association’s ethics statements. There’s a comment about them in last weeks’ CMDA “News and Views.” See Dr. Robert Scheidt’s comments, with the links to the three ethics statements that were approved at this year’s CMDA House of Directors. This week, we have the NEJM article on “Futile care.”
elow is what I believe are the pertinent section from the AMA Ethics “Policy Finder.” (See E-10.05, 3c)
(1) Physicians must keep their professional obligations to provide care to patients in accord with their prerogative to choose whether to enter into a patient-physician relationship.
(2) The following instances identify the limits on physicians’ prerogative: (a) Physicians should respond to the best of their ability in cases of medical emergency (Opinion 8.11, “Neglect of Patient”). (b) Physicians cannot refuse to care for patients based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other criteria that would constitute invidious discrimination (Opinion 9.12, “Patient-Physician Relationship: Respect for Law and Human Rights”), nor can they discriminate against patients with infectious diseases (Opinion 2.23, “HIV Testing”). (c) Physicians may not refuse to care for patients when operating under a contractual arrangement that requires them to treat (Opinion 10.015, “The Patient-Physician Relationship”). Exceptions to this requirement may exist when patient care is ultimately compromised by the contractual arrangement.
(3) In situations not covered above, it may be ethically permissible for physicians to decline a potential patient when: (a) The treatment request is beyond the physician’s current competence. (b) The treatment request is known to be scientifically invalid, has no medical indication, and offers no possible benefit to the patient (Opinion 8.20, “Invalid Medical Treatment”). (c) A specific treatment sought by an individual is incompatible with the physician’s personal, religious, or moral beliefs.
(4) Physicians, as professionals and members of society, should work to assure access to adequate health care (Opinion 10.01, “Fundamental Elements of the Patient-Physician Relationship”).* Accordingly, physicians have an obligation to share in providing charity care (Opinion 9.065, “Caring for the Poor”) but not to the degree that would seriously compromise the care provided to existing patients. When deciding whether to take on a new patient, physicians should consider the individual’s need for medical service along with the needs of their current patients. Greater medical necessity of a service engenders a stronger obligation to treat. (I, VI, VIII, IX) Issued December 2000 based on the report “Potential Patients, Ethical Considerations,” adopted June 2000. Updated December 2003. * Considerations in determining an adequate level of health care are outlined in Opinion 2.095, “The Provision of Adequate Health Care.”
The practice of medicine, and its embodiment in the clinical encounter between a patient and a physician, is fundamentally a moral activity that arises from the imperative to care for patients and to alleviate suffering.
A patient-physician relationship exists when a physician serves a patient’s medical needs, generally by mutual consent between physician and patient (or surrogate). In some instances the agreement is implied, such as in emergency care or when physicians provide services at the request of the treating physician. In rare instances, treatment without consent may be provided under court order (see Opinion 2.065, “Court-Initiated Medical Treatments in Criminal Cases”). Nevertheless, the physician’s obligations to the patient remain intact.
The relationship between patient and physician is based on trust and gives rise to physicians’ ethical obligations to place patients’ welfare above their own self-interest and above obligations to other groups, and to advocate for their patients’ welfare.
Within the patient-physician relationship, a physician is ethically required to use sound medical judgment, holding the best interests of the patient as paramount. (I, II, VI, VIII) Issued December 2001 based on the report “The Patient-Physician Relationship,” adopted June 2001.
The creation of the patient-physician relationship is contractual in nature. Generally, both the physician and the patient are free to enter into or decline the relationship. A physician may decline to undertake the care of a patient whose medical condition is not within the physician’s current competence. However, physicians who offer their services to the public may not decline to accept patients because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or any other basis that would constitute invidious discrimination. Furthermore, physicians who are obligated under pre-existing contractual arrangements may not decline to accept patients as provided by those arrangements. (I, III, V, VI) Issued July 1986; Updated June 1994.