Medical Practices and Ethical Implications

Researches and practices in the medical field unveil new drugs, forms of treatment, and disease prevention measures. The science behind the trial of new techniques in medical procedures, including the use of new drugs, encounters a lot of challenges today. Any discovery has to be tested to ascertain the impact on the life of both plants and animals and the entire environment. Most of the discoveries require models for trial experiments. These trials may involve plants and animals. The success of the experiment will be determined by the ethical implications and regulations. There exist a lot of challenges in medicine especially where the cause, cure, and prevention of a disease is not yet known. New drug discoveries meant to be tried in animal models are known to evoke similar responses in human beings also. Animal protection agencies argue that the use of animals for testing violates the animals’ right to life. Unfortunately, there are cases where no trial models other than animals are available.

The major controversial medical experiments range from; tissue healing, growth, and development, organ transplants, gene therapy, recombinant DNA technology in drug discovery and food manufacture, invitro fertilization, gene cloning alongside all medical undertakings that entail an artificial modification of the natural make of an animal or plant. Most of the research concerning human health is best done in animal models that can not be replaced by micro-organisms and invitro testing. Medical researchers are constantly being threatened by animal protection agencies like Animal Liberation Front and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

About human health, the world medical declaration of Helsinki serves as a statement of ethical principles providing guidelines to physicians and researchers involved with human subjects. According to the statement, physicians are under an obligation to ensure the safety of human life with their knowledge and conscience geared to the fulfillment of this duty, the patient first. Medical practices and research involving human subjects are aimed at improving the prophylactic, diagnosis and the therapeutic index alongside understanding the pathogenesis of the disease. The statement, therefore, approves to challenge the existing procedures with new research and re-evaluate to ascertain their efficacy. It is in agreement with the statement that there are obstacles and risks involved (National Institute of Health).

Medical research implies that any involvement of human subjects should be based on valid and adequate information with laboratory and prior animal experimentation that has confirmed the tests as well as any subsequent procedures to be safe. Caution should be taken about the impact on the entire environment as well.

Approval for any undertaking by a known organization is also required. The organization reserves the right to ascertain the source of funding alongside monitoring the progress of the research.

Sometimes it is not so necessary to value the consent especially where chances are that the subject will not consent not because of a life-threatening risk involved but as a result of other minimal factors like fear of being embarrassed. A case is implicated where Ashkensai Jews are known to have a high genetic predisposition to conditions like Tay Sachs, Gaucher, and BRCs.If an arkensai Jew is asked to consent on this for a medical research undertaking there is a possibility that he/she will refuse for the fear of being termed as genetically defective. An arkensai doctor will approve such a deal since people prefer practicing on what affects them and those close to them. Medical practitioners are left to question whether it is ethical for someone to stay healthy regardless of what people say or stay back and suffer at some point in life from the disease condition. (Frank & Learit, p. 796).

It is worth noting that there is no medical procedure done where the benefit does not outweigh the risk. Nobody can freely admit to taking a risk when the benefit is less than the risk involved. Justice is an issue of concern that should be taken seriously and fairness accorded to all regardless of race. (Frank & Learit, p. 789).

Gene therapy has become so controversial, irrespective of the fact that so far several genetic disorders have had their cure through gene therapy. The procedure involves analysis of the genetic information underlying a disease condition which calls for a comparison between the diseased and a nondiseased individual. Conditions like Huntington’s disease that initially had no known cure or cause have been diagnosed through gene therapy. It is very devastating to watch one die from this condition. Researchers had to analyze the genetic information and identify the genes responsible for a chromosomal arm. Though a cure could not be identified as soon, the possibility of an individual knowing if he /she has a genetic predisposition to the condition is made possible. Gene therapy has the promise of treatment through replacement therapy where the defective genes can be removed and replaced with functional genes.

Ethics surrounding gene therapy is that the information regarding an individual’s predisposition to the disease condition causes panic and anxiety owing to the fear of possible death in the event of the disease emerging. It is argued that with the certain possibility of death, such people are bound to be exploited by insurance policies on their life if such information is made public. Ethical issues surrounding the consent to genetic analysis are that such information is kept confidential between the researcher and the client. Any violation is thus punishable (Trevor Smith, 15).

The battle between ethics and medical practices dates back to the 2nd world war where Nazi doctors tried to test the ability of pilots to survive in the sea in the event of a plane crash by purposely throwing native people in cold waters. It is with this event that the international community responded to and created the Helsinki Declaration in 1964 alongside the Medical Organization of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) and the world health organization (WHO). Ethics thus tries to forbid the abuse of medical research as in the case implicated in the 2nd world war (Michael parker Donna Dickenson, p. 88).

Ethics argue that since medical research makes it possible for people to know so much information about their genotypes through genetic screening, it enables them to decide on very crucial issues in life. However, in cases where couples seeking to ascertain their genotypes about genetic disease predisposition may end up devastated especially when one of the spouses terminates the relationship on grounds that there lies a risk of passing the trait in the family. Further, parents may tend to use genetic information to determine the traits in their kids. The cost of managing these diseases may drive parents to terminate the life of unborn kids diagnosed with certain genetic diseases. Ethically life begins at conception and there is no justification for one to terminate another’s life (National Research Council US committee).

One other very controversial topic in medical practice is assisted reproduction technology. With the advent of invitro fertilization, it is possible to circumvent the problem of childlessness in marriage. Couples who do not have kids of their own are the beneficiaries of this technology. It is a fact that medical procedures involving embryo transplants and stem cell research have met strong opposition. However, the gains accrued from such technology have benefited a large number of families. The existence of sperm banks in the United States of America is meant to aid in prolonging progeny. Widows of deceased US soldiers in the Iraq war are pleased to successfully go through a medical procedure with a saved sperm donation from the husbands to get a baby. The ethical implication especially about religion may view this as an attempt to clone man (Ian R Frekelton, &Kerry Anne Peterson, p. 684).

Cloning of human beings has been restricted by the prohibition of the human cloning act 2002, but some sections provide for the creation of embryos like in the case of pregnancies from sperm banks where the procedure entails the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm. It may be right to prohibit the abuse of reproductive health especially with the fear that it increases unacceptable practices like cases of same-sex marriage seeking to have kids through assisted reproductive health.

About drug discovery and testing, there have been cases where medical research practices have been associated with the loss of life. The drug thalidomide administered to expectant mothers in 1960 led to the development of congenital disabilities. Vaccines like pertusis given to infants resulted in brain damage. Ethical issues surrounding such findings can not be neglected. The discovery of drugs is meant to save lives; however, when negative effects occur, the research becomes questionable. Researchers have severally argued that science changes dramatically and today’s invention may seem better and outdo the mistakes previously done. It may not be right to overlook the fears in the past but they should not be strongly held to the extent that they make it impossible for any new invention or trial (Marion et al, p. 890)

Drug discoveries and testing have been ethically questioned in the recent past. A case has occurred where an ethnobotanist working with the native people of Peru in medicinal plants, is reported to have disclosed information regarding the medicinal value of some trees in the forest to some pharmaceutical company. He hoped that any research undertaking on this information will directly compensate the natives of Peru. Unfortunately, researchers went ahead to analyze the genes responsible for the medicinal traits in the plants, and at the moment drugs are being synthesized from the plants. Medical scientists believe that they do not owe the ethnobotanist or the natives of Peru any form of compensation (Leland Hartwell et al, p. 765).

There are also cases where the ethical justification of medical practice as wrongdoing may be fully be accepted. In the case of genetic doping resulting in enhanced abilities in human beings, there exists a possibility that this may not only be limited to situations like sports but people may use them to achieve traits that may pose risk to the world as in the case of terrorism. Besides, there is also the chance that sometimes the procedures involved in the research sampling of material are painful and dangerous. Obtaining embryonic cells, for instance, involves the penetration of the womb which is a painful procedure that carries the risk of damage to the fetus.

The current medical practices are purely based on biomedical ethics and religious, social, and cultural views are not considered where a particular disease condition is evident. The majority of medical practices, no matter how risky these may be, are undertaken on the justification that the physical examination indicates the presence of the condition and the procedure is meant to prevent a loss of life or to overcome a fatal condition. There are cases where doctors share a similar belief with their patients and they have offered spiritual advice in addition to the available medical therapy. This does not, however, mean that religious implications should come before the medical therapy but a combination of the two can be employed. A common example is where patients are advised to have strong faith in their creator that the therapy works and indeed it does for them.

Every aspect of society today has ethical implications. For a medical practice, however, since many cases are geared towards saving human life, a critical analysis should be applied to measure the risks involved and the benefits accruing. Most cases have benefits to human life exceeding the feared risks and they should not be avoided because of the ethical implication surrounding them. Provided medical practices are done within the limits of good medical practice the ethical implications will be met as they ought to. However, in the event of practices that violate the expected code of practice, action should be taken.

Works cited

  1. Marion, et al. Dimensions of the health policy. Oxford University press, 2005
  2. Hartwell, Leland et al. Genetics: from gene to genome. USA: McGraw Hill, 2000.
  3. Ian, R. and Anne, Peterson. Disputes and dilemmas in health law. Federal press, 2006.
  4. National Research Council US Committee: Mapping and sequencing of the human genome. USA: National academic press, 1988.
  5. Trevor, Smith. Ethics in medical research: Handbook of good practice. Cambridge University press, 1999.
  6. Donna, Dickenson and Michael, Parke. The Cambridge medical ethics work book studies, commentaries and activities. Cambridge University press, 2001.
  7. Frank and Learit. Plea to liberalize the ethics of non –invent ional genetic research: bioethics and the impact of the human genome research in the 21st century. 2001.
  8. National Institute of Health; World medical declaration of the Helsinki, ethical principle for medical research involving human subjects. 2009.