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Monday, September 19, 2016

How Should Clinicians Treat Patients Who Might Be Undocumented?

Commentary by Jeff Sconyers and Tyler Tate
AMA Journal of Ethics. March 2016, Volume 18, Number 3: 229-236.
 doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2016.18.03.ecas4-1603.

Here is an excerpt:

Ethical Considerations

In terms of the ethical analysis of this case, there is no better place to start than the Hippocratic Oath. While the oath never explicitly states primum non nocere (first do no harm), a phrase it is often assumed to contain, it does give us the informative statement “Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick…whether they are free men or slaves” [10]. The normative claim implicit here is that it is the duty of the physician to take care of anyone who comes to him or her for care, regardless of that person’s societal status. This claim is intimately related to the principle of beneficence, which is a broad concept encompassing acts of mercy, kindness, charity, altruism, love, humanity, and a deep concern for the promotion of the good of others [11]. At times, the demands of beneficence can conflict with an agent’s desire for a comfortable life; this conflict will influence Dr. Connelly’s analysis of a relationship with Ms. Nunez.

We believe that if a patient has an acute life-threatening condition (for example, a stroke, respiratory distress, or ongoing blood loss), it is the physician’s moral obligation to treat him or her, except under rare and extenuating circumstances—such as certain risk of dangerous exposure, injury, or death from attempting treatment. (This moral obligation is different from the legal rules outlined above.) If a patient is in extremis, a physician must attempt to treat. However, these clear obligations need not apply in less acute scenarios like that of Dr. Connelly and Ms. Nunez.

The article is here.