Doctor Nurse Ethical Dilemma

Kennon-Green & Co. Fiduciary Financial Advisor, Wealth Management, Global Value Investing

Here’s an ethical dilemma involving the right to privacy versus the harm principle of morality.

Doctor Nurse Ethical Dilemma

The Ethical Dilemma: You are a doctor or a nurse at a regional hospital in your area.  One day, as you turn a corner, you see a man you know, the husband of a female friend of yours, walking out of an exam room.  A little bit of investigation and you discover that he’s HIV positive due to relapsing into a drug addiction.  You also discover that his wife, your friend, has never been informed, much to the anger of the attending physician.  Nobody knows your relationship to the patient.  Nobody realizes you have this information.  Your jurisdiction does not criminalize HIV infection, and there are no legal provisions that would allow you to inform without violating privacy laws in your area.

The Questions:

Do you warn your friend to get tested and stop sleeping with her husband?

If so, as a separate thought experiment, how would you achieve it without being caught or having any possible trace back to you?

Would you answer change if the man was your brother-in-law and the friend was your sister?

If you knew, with absolutely certainty, that you would not get caught and you would not lose your medical license, would this change your answer?

If you knew, with absolute certainty, that you would get caught and you would lose your medical license, would you still inform the woman despite the enormous ramifications for your own spouse and kids as you were forced to give up your career and start over with nothing? 

The Considerations:

Your failure to act has a high probability of resulting in an innocent person contracting HIV and / or dying.

Your decision to act might be illegal, unethical, and result in significant financial and professional hardships for you, which will harm your own household.  If discovered and reported in the news, paradoxically, it will almost certainly lead to fewer people admitting their risk status as they no longer trust doctors or nurses.  Thus, though hard to trace, you will have been indirectly responsible for far more than a single HIV infection.

Think about it.  Answer for yourself in private.  Or talk amongst yourselves.

By thinking through ethical dilemmas, it is often easy to identify flaws in one’s own thought process, areas of bias, as well as to reveal your true motivations, priorities, and values.  They are one of the most valuables tools I use in my own arsenal to improve clarity of thought.