By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Nov. 19, 2012 -- What would your doctor do in a tricky ethical situation?
Medscape, WebMD's physician web site, recently surveyed 24,000 doctors to find out. They asked doctors how they'd handle a wide range of ethical dilemmas, including sex with patients, assisted suicide, abortion, end-of-life care, and dealing with terminal illness.
Some of their answers may surprise you. Here's what Medscape heard from doctors in a wide range of medical specialties:
Sex With Patients
Is it ever OK for a doctor to have sex with a patient?
Only 1% of doctors think so, if the person is still a patient. Another 22% think it's OK if they wait until six months after the person stops being a patient. And 9% say, "It depends." The other 68% say it's never OK.
When asked if physician-assisted suicide should be allowed in some situations, 47% of doctors said "yes," 40% said "no," and 13% said, "It depends."
Would your doctor perform an unnecessary operation or other procedure just because not doing it might result in a malpractice lawsuit?
A whopping 23% of doctors said they would. Just over half (55%) said they would not, but 22% said, "It depends."
Intensive Care for Dying Newborns
This is possibly the hardest question in the survey: Is it right to provide intensive care to a newborn who will either die soon or survive but have an objectively terrible quality of life? Yes: 34%. No: 27%. It depends: 39%.
Lying to Patients
If a patient wants a treatment that his or her doctor believes isn't needed, would the doctor ever prescribe a fake treatment? Yes: 34%. No: 48%. It depends: 18%.
If it would "bolster their spirit," would doctors not tell patients about a fatal illness? One in 10 doctors (10%) said they would, while 18% said it depends on the situation. Most doctors (72%) said they always tell it like it is.
Should doctors always admit making mistakes, even if the mistake caused no harm? Most doctors (63%) said they'd come clean. But 16% said they'd cover up their error, and 21% said, "It depends."
Lying to Insurance Companies
To make sure your insurance company covers your treatment, would your doctor exaggerate the severity of your condition -- or even lie about it?
Only 13% of doctors say they would, while another 12% said it would depend on the situation. An overwhelming 75% of doctors said they won't do it.
Dropping Patients Over Insurance
Would your longtime doctor stop accepting your insurance if your insurer didn't pay well enough?
Only 41% of doctors said they would not, while 27% said they would, and 32% said, "It depends."
Would your doctor give you treatments to keep you alive, even if such treatments had no chance of saving your life? Yes: 35%. No: 24%. It depends: 41%.
If your family said to end treatment, would your doctor keep on treating you if he or she thought you had a chance to recover? Yes: 23%. No: 32%. It depends: 42%.
Would doctors perform abortions "in certain situations" if it went against their personal beliefs? Most doctors (51%) said they would. But 36% said they would not, and 13% said it depends on the situation.
Treating Pain vs. Avoiding Addiction
Would your doctor undertreat your pain for fear you might become addicted to pain drugs?
Only 15% of doctors would go that far. Nearly two-thirds (65%) never would undertreat pain for that reason, while 20% said it depends on the situation.
If a pharmaceutical company sales representative took your doctor to lunch, could your doctor remain unbiased in his or her prescribing habits?
Yes, 72% of doctors said. But 20% said they could not claim to remain unbiased, and 8% said it depends on the situation.
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SOURCES: Medscape 2012 Ethics Report. News release, Medscape.
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