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Friday 28th October 2016

Our medical ethics are flawed

12th November 2007

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, junior doctor Max Pemberton concludes the framework for our medical ethics is flawed.

time for listening

The origins of medical ethics can be traced back to the 4th century BC, a framework underpinned by core values within which to understand ethical dilemmas. Yet there may be different interpretations of core values.

This was apparent with the recent inquiry into whether there is scientific evidence to warrant lowering the current 24-week abortion limit.

Abortion immediately polarises opinion but this isn't just the 'for or against' dichotomy that exposes the fragility of medical ethics.

Currently, at 21 weeks, a foetus will not survive outside the womb. At 22 weeks the chance of survival rises to 1% but at 23 weeks that is between 11 and 40%.

The line of reasoning is that because these survival rates are so small, the foetus is not regarded ethically in the same way that other humans are. But this throws up an anomaly relating to another morally contentious area: euthanasia.

If a doctor is allowed to terminate a pregnancy at 23 weeks because the chance of the child surviving is so slim, why is it not acceptable to extend the same rationale to adults?

That 23-week old foetus is far more likely to survive than a 43-year-old woman with extremely painful pancreatic cancer yet, in the current ethical climate, it would be wrong for doctors to assist in the death of someone whom they know is going to die.

Surely, the way in which we are applying our ethical framework is flawed?


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