Painful ethical choices in 2020 vs. 2010: How has thinking changed?


Should physicians be required to treat COVID-19 patients?

Some questions were new this year, including one on whether physicians should be required to treat COVID-19 patients. Fewer than half (47%) answered “yes,” 24% said “no,” and 29% answered “it depends.”

Doctors’ answers to this question differed slightly by gender: Fifty percent of men and 43% of women said “yes.” In their responses, many physicians said consideration should be given to risk factors, such as age, underlying conditions, risk of family members, and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Another pandemic-related question asked whether physicians felt they should correct physicians who post misinformation about the pandemic on social media. Half (50%) said “yes,” 19% said “no,” and 31% said “it depends.”

Speaking out against the workplace

This year, many physicians have felt betrayed when they didn’t have adequate PPE during the pandemic.

Asked, “Is it right to speak out against your hospital or workplace when they don’t give you what you need?” 53% of physicians said “yes,” 8% said “no,” and 40% said “it depends.”

A cardiologist made the value judgment this way: “Speaking out just because you had an argument with your boss is inappropriate. Bringing to the public repeated failures to correct situations that have been brought through the proper channels is necessary to incite change.”

Random drug testing for physicians?

Another question in the survey asked whether physicians should be subjected to random drug testing for alcohol and drug abuse. About one-third (34%) said yes, 43% said no, and 23% said “it depends.” A study found that between 10% and 15% of physicians have abused a substance at some point in their careers.

The subject continues to hit a nerve in medicine.

A family physician wrote, “This should not be done unless a particular physician had a problem with drug or alcohol abuse and shows signs of impairment.”

An internist took a different view, saying, “Military service men and women, police, firefighters, airline pilots, and other professions that have responsibilities affecting people’s lives are subject to testing; why not physicians?”

A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.


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