Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Essay on Medical Research and Ethics

Essay on Medical Research and Ethics

Centuries ago medicine was invented to help people. Today we cannot imagine our lives without people in the white robes that save out lives. Each time, leaving a doctor’s office with a smile on our face, having avoided some dangerous illness or having been cured from it, we thank god that the one who helped us had chosen this profession. However, in the last couple of decades more and more we hear about the unethical behavior of those in medicine. Of course, this is so because medicine, as all other fields of our lives has become corrupt, though this field is different from all others. This is so because sometimes when it comes to medicine and medical research in particular it is very hard to draw a line between what is ethical and what is not. In my paper I would like to talk about the conflicts between medical research and ethics.

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It has to be understood that medicine is not an exact science, like for example mathematics, physics or chemistry. In fact, medicine does not possess any general steadfast principals that are valid under all circumstances and can be applied to all the people. Every patient is different and has his/her own case history, thus the treatment that is 95% effective with patients, can cause harm to the other 5% of the population. Consequently, medicine is science that is experimental in nature. Even the most widely used and generally accepted treatments should be constantly monitored and should be analyzed for compatibility with patients. The above can be achieved only through medical research, thus it is vital to conduct it. Another very important function of the medical research, of course, is the invention of new medicine and treatments.

All doctors practice medical research to some extent, and if they do not engage in it personally they use the results of such in their practice. Conducting medical research or being updated about the results of the studies conducted by other helps the doctors stay competent and use the findings with their patients. A very common method or research is the clinical trial. Before a new drug can be put into use it has to undergo serious tastings, in which the drug is tried on animals. Though, animals are engaged in the project only at the first phase, however at the second the drug is tested on the people who have the disease that is intended to be cured. At times, the patients do not know that they are being used as a test group. As such trials became very popular in the last couple years, the demand for resources - the people – has increased. Such state of things has caused many problems leading to the fact that today the sense of ethics of many physicians is questioned (Jones, 2002, pp. 24-26).

It is well understood that medical research offers great opportunities for the doctors. It interests them, by its means they can get promoted and receive recognition by colleagues, finally, medical research helps the doctors learn more about how to help people. Though, it is vital for the doctors to remember that their role is very different from the role of a researcher. A good doctor cannot look at his patients simply as at the research material. A good doctor should not be interested in gathering knowledge when having even a slightest chance that the drug tested can hurt the patients. Thus, the conflict occurs, when the two roles start to clash. Without a shadow of doubt, not all physicians are simply willing to use their patients following the selfish motives. Though, such cases took place (Jones, 2002, p. 27).

Today the basic rules of medical ethics are established, however even fifty years ago it was far from being so. In fact, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century it was common for practicing physicians to use the patients with fatal illnesses for the sake of drug testing. It was considered then that those suffering from fatal illnesses were doomed anyway, thus it was appropriate to experiment with their, already ruined lives (Jones, 2002, pp. 31-32). Moreover, the whole world is today aware of the horrible medical tests that had been conducted by the Nazi doctors on the Jewish people at the concentration camps. However, after the World War Two, most of those doctors, if one may call them that had to go through the Nuremberg Trial, and at the end were executed. There in Nuremberg, Germany, the first ten ethical principles for medical workers have been set. The document received a name The Nuremberg Code. The same year the Nuremberg Code was comprised, the World Medical Association was created also with the purpose to prevent the violation of medical ethics (The Nuremberg Code, 1946-1947).

One of the principles listed in the Nuremberg Code is the requirement of voluntary consent if a patient is to serve as a research subject. I think it is important to talk about this principle in more detail. The principle is as follows: ““The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” Thus, it is vital for the patient to have full information about what is going to be done to him/her, what exactly will be tested on him/her, with what purpose, and what could be the side effects (Principles of Patient Consent). The answers to all of the above questions have to be clear for the patient to ensure that he or she has make a sound and grounded decision on this significant matter (The Nuremberg Code, 1946-1947). It was not easy for me to form an opinion on this topic, because I, as a potential patient tend to be biased. However, having spent time thinking about I came to the conclusion that even though medical research is vital for the development and improvement of medicine, it can turn to be very harmful. This issue is controversial, because it deals with the lives of people. It is very important, in my opinion, that today there several codes ensuring the ethical behavior of physicians. Though, it is regrettable to admit that horrifying cases of unethical behavior do not cease. In my opinion, when combining the roles of a doctor and a researcher, doctors enter a very slippery phase, where it is easy to get carried away. Thus, one should think twice before entering this phase.
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