Quantifying Medical Ethics
Ethicists debate the impact of deontological ethics versus utilitarian ethics in decision-making in healthcare. Yet, rules or duty based ethical interpretation possesses an inherent ambiguity that seems at times incompatible with the science of healthcare. A utilitarian ethical approach may be useful in a clinical setting. Consequence based decision making has the potential to define levels of ethical impact for both the patient and practitioner.
Variation in societal expectations and ethical standards of practitioners is evident across the spectrum of professions who treat patients. An underlying subconscious societal tallying of the cumulative effects of a decision may drive this discrepancy. Higher stakes garner higher scrutiny. A cardiovascular surgeon’s mistake may result in the instantaneous demise of a patient whereas a dentist’s mistake may result in the loss of a tooth. Quantifying outcomes may help explain why the public applies different ethical standards to plastic surgeons, chiropractors, or dentists as opposed to pediatric surgeons, transplant surgeons, or critical care physicians.
An objective measurement scale for ethical dilemmas in healthcare could provide practitioners with a tool for stratifying decisions based on effect. Beneficence, non-maleficence, justice and autonomy have become central tenets in medical ethics curricula and healthcare policy. While useful in general terms, individual interpretation varies widely. A specific relationship between the principle and an outcome is not well established.