Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

Consider the ethical dilemma the health care professional is faced with in the selected case study. Pay particular attention to details that will help you analyze the situation using the three components of the Ethical Decision Making Model (moral awareness, moral judgment, and ethical behavior).

Note: The case study may not supply all of the information you may need for the assignment. In such cases, you should consider a variety of possibilities and infer potential conclusions. However, please be sure to identify any speculations that you make.

Incident 9: The Missing Needle Protector

E. L. Straight is director of clinical services at Hopewell Hospital. As in many hospitals, a few physicians provide care that is acceptable, but not of very high quality; they tend to make more mistakes than the others and have a higher incidence of patients going “sour.” Since Straight took the position 2 years ago, new programs have been developed and things seem to be getting better in terms of quality.

Dr. Cutrite has practiced at Hopewell for longer than anyone can remember. Although once a brilliant general surgeon, he has slipped physically and mentally over the years, and Straight is contemplating taking steps to recommend a reduction in his privileges. However, the process is not complete, and Cutrite continues to perform a full range of procedures. Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

The operating room supervisor appeared at Straight’s office one Monday afternoon. “We’ve got a problem,” she said, somewhat nonchalantly, but with a hint of disgust. “ I’m almost sure we left a plastic needle protector from a disposable syringe in a patient’s belly, a Mrs. Jameson. You know, the protectors with the red–pink color. They’d be almost impossible to see if they were in a wound.”

“Where did it come from?” asked Straight.

“I’m not absolutely sure,” answered the supervisor. “All I know is that the syringe was among items in a used surgical pack when we did the count.” She went on to describe the safeguards of counts and records. The discrepancy was noted when records were reconciled at the end of the week. A surgical pack was shown as having a syringe, that was not supposed to be there. When the scrub nurse working with Cutrite was questioned, she remembered that he had used a syringe, but, when it was included in the count at the conclusion of surgery, she didn’t think about the protective sheath, which must have been on it.

“Let’s get Mrs. Jameson back into surgery.” said Straight. “We’ll tell her it’s necessary to check her incision and deep sutures. She’ll never know we’re really looking for the needle cover.”

“Too late,” responded the supervisor, “she went home day before yesterday.”

Oh, oh, thought Straight. Now what to do? “Have you talked to Dr. Cutrite?” Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

The supervisor nodded affirmatively. “He won’t consider telling Mrs. Jameson there might be a problem and calling her back to the hospital,” she said. “And he warned us not to do anything either,” she added. “Dr. Cutrite claims it cannot possibly hurt her. Except for a little discomfort, she’ll never know it’s there.”

Straight called the chief of surgery and asked s hypothetical question about the consequences of leaving a small plastic cap in a patient’s belly. The chief knew something was amiss but didn’t pursue it. He simply replied there would likely be occasional discomfort, but probably no life–threatening consequences from leaving it in. “Although,” he added, “one never knows.”

Straight liked working at Hopewell Hospital and didn’t relish crossing swords with Cutrite, who, although declining clinically, was politically very powerful. Straight had refrained from fingernail biting for years, but that old habit was suddenly overwhelming. Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

Incident 10: To vaccinate, or not

Jenna and Chris Smith are the proud parents of Ana, a 5–day–old baby girl born without complications at Community Hospital. Since delivery, the parents have bonded well with Ana and express their desire to raise her as naturally as possible. For the Smiths, this means breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, making their own baby food using pureed organic foods, and not allowing Ana to be vaccinated.


The Smiths are college educated and explain they have researched vaccines and decided the potential harms caused by them far outweigh any benefits. They point to the rise in autism rates as proof of the unforeseen risk of vaccines. Their new pediatrician, Dr. Angela Kerr, listens intently to the Smiths’ description of their research, including online mommy–blogs that detail how vaccines may have caused autism in many children. The Smiths conclude by resolutely stating they’ve decided not to vaccinate Ana, despite the recommendations of the medical community. Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

Dr. Kerr begins by stating that while vaccines have certainly sparked controversy in recent years, she strongly recommends that Ana become fully vaccinated. Dr. Kerr explains that vaccines have saved the lives of millions of children worldwide and have been largely responsible for decreases in child mortality over the past century. For example, the decreased incidence of infection with the potentially fatal Haemophilus influenzae type b, has resulted from routine immunization against that bacterium. Similarly, epidemics such as the recent outbreak of measles are usually associated with individuals who have not been vaccinated against that pathogen.

Dr. Kerr goes on to endorse the general safety of vaccines by informing Ana’s parents that safety profiles of vaccines are updated regularly through data sources such as the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). The VAERS, a nationwide vaccine safety surveillance program sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is accessible to the public at This system allows transparency for vaccine safety by encouraging the public and healthcare providers to report adverse reactions to vaccines and enables the federal government to monitor their safety. No vaccine has been proven casual for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or any developmental disorder. On the contrary, many studies have shown that vaccines containing thimerasol, an ingredient once thought to cause autism, do not increase the risk of ASD. Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

Finally, Dr. Kerr reminds the Smiths that some children in the general population have weakened immune systems because of genetic diseases or cancer treatment, for example. It may not be medically feasible to vaccinate such children. Other children are too young to receive certain immunizations. Instead, these children are protected because almost all other children (and adults) have been vaccinated and this decreases their exposure to vaccine–preventable illnesses (VPIs). This epidemiological concept is known as “herd immunity.” As more parents refuse immunization for their healthy children, however, the rate of VPIs will increase. This puts vulnerable children at significant risk of morbidity and mortality. Routine childhood immunization contributes significantly to the health of the general public, both by providing a direct benefit to those who are vaccinated and by protecting others via herd immunity. Dr. Kerr concludes by stating that after considering the risks versus the benefits of immunization, most states require vaccinations before children can attend school. Parents may decide not to vaccinate under specific circumstances, however, which vary by state.

Jenna and Chris Smith confirm their understanding of what Dr. Kerr has explained, but restate that they do not want Ana vaccinated at this time. Dr. Kerr is perplexed as to what to do Ethical Case Studies in Healthcare

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