An ethical and moral dilemma

As I reflect on my days as a practitioner (many years ago) I am reminded of the following incident and this affected me professionally and personally. My cousin had just been shot by a gangster and had been killed on his way home from work. The trauma to us as a family was tremendous. Two days later while working in ICU at the hospital where I was employed, I am paged to come treat a patient who has been ventilated and shot. As I approach the bed I discover it is the same person/gangster who shot my cousin. To be honest for five minutes (probably more) I stood at that bedside with many things going through my head – do I treat him, do I walk away, he killed my cousin just two days ago and many other thoughts. I was totally conflicted by what was the right thing to do and my own personal feelings.

On the one hand the patient needed urgent chest physiotherapy that would assist in stabilising his condition and on other hand how can I treat and possibly save the life of someone who killed a family member of mine. Could I as a practitioner refuse to treat a patient?




5 Replies to “An ethical and moral dilemma”

  1. yeah it is really hard but In my opinion if you don’t help him you will be as them assist to kill someone and you know that you can help in stabilizing his condition because all medical field is human services at the end and we have to follow the right way even if it is opposite to our feelings sometimes .


    1. Hi Duaa. I agree that this is the ideal response, but you can imagine how hard it is to ignore the “moral” voice in your head that says the patient doesn’t deserve it, and to follow the “legal” voice that says you must.


  2. Dear Jose

    Thank you for sharing this very personal experience. I can’t imagine how I would feel in that situation.

    Interestingly, this is probably the clinical experience that our students struggle with the most (or at least, this seems to be the one they report on most often). The idea of providing equal treatment, with dignity and respect, to patients who are criminals, is something that students seem most offended by. Many of them can’t imagine treating this person with any treatment, let alone with offering the best they have to give. And yet, this is what the Constitution promises them. Criminals have only lost their right to freedom of movement, and therefore are entitled to receive the best treatment that the health system has to give. Talk about a moral and ethical dilemma.

    Our students find this very difficult to deal with and as a teacher, I’m not sure that I help the situation. You have the Constitution saying that everyone deserves to be treated equally, your own moral values saying that this person is not deserving of treatment, your lecturer saying that what you believe is less important than what you do, and your clinicians saying things like “Just do the bare minimum”. Our poor students are often stuck between choices that are very difficult and no clear “right” way to respond.

    Thanks again for sharing your story.


  3. Thank you for the comments. The other day I was at the same hospital and read the Batho Pele principles which was introduced after my incident and at the end are these words ” WE BELONG, WE CARE,WE SERVE to make A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL” and it just got me thinking that no matter what are personal feelings if we commit to the above then it is making a better life FOR ALL.


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