How drunk is too drunk—another foray into medical ethics

The best ethical questions are real ones. Sure, it’s fun to play the lifeboat game, but when you’re dealing with flesh and blood human beings on a daily basis, games aren’t all that helpful. So here’s a non-life-and-death question: if a patient comes to see you and smells of alcohol, can you add an alcohol level to their blood work without specifically informing them?

Ethical discussions are best held as, well, discussions, so I’ll lay out some ethical principles and let you discuss before I weigh in further.

First, any patient who comes to see a doctor signs a “general consent for treatment” which usually contains a phrase such as:

I request and authorize Health Care Services by my physician, and his/her designees as may deem advisable. This may include routine diagnostic, radiology and laboratory procedures and medication administration.

Second, for your reference, here is the summary of the AMA’s code of medical ethics.

And finally, a brief list of the most agreed-upon basic principles of medical ethics:

    Beneficence – acting in the best interest of the patient.
    Non-maleficence – avoid harm to the patient
    Autonomy – the patient has the right to refuse or choose their treatment
    Justice—fair distribution or resources
    Truthfulness/informed consent

Remember that ethics aren’t a checklist. Real life situations are just that—real, with real people.

OK, the thread is now open.