A hypothetical question for our medical professionals: Police bring a wounded man to the hospital that has been arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Following minor surgery, the police try and fail to obtain a blood sample from the patient to be used as evidence against him. Frustrated, police leave the room and ask a nurse to get the sample for them. The nurse re-enters the room and, without informing the patient as to the purpose of the blood draw, does as the police requested. Is this an ethical or unethical act? The Supreme Court of Vermont found it to be unethical since the nurse failed to obtain consent (PDF) from the patient and thereby committed medical battery.
Another hypothetical: Police bring a man who is not under arrest to the ER and ask the doctors to perform a body cavity search for drugs. Is it ethical or unethical to perform the cavity search? This situation occurred recently in New Mexico, and the first doctor asked to perform the procedure denied the police request, claiming it was unethical. Two other doctors, however, would go on to perform multiple cavity searches of this individual with their fingers, by X-Ray, by enema and finally by prepping the patient for surgery and performing a colonoscopy--all without the patient's consent. The patient is now seeking legal action against those same doctors, the medical center, and the city and county where the action ocurred.
The Hippocratic Oath tells us to "keep [the sick] from harm and injustice," and Hippocrates is generally credited with the saying, Primum non Nocere, meaning "First, do no harm." According to Matthew 4:23, Jesus healed all manner of sick and injured people, without regard to who they were or what they might have done. Given the importance of strong moral and ethical boundaries in healthcare, as well as the likelihood that you may encounter similar situations of questionable ethical behavior in the healthcare field, the R.A. Williams Library has a number of items concerning medical ethics. Check one out today!
(Image "Twelfth-century Byzantine manuscript, the oath was written out in the form of a cross, relating it visually to Christian ideas," taken from Wikimedia Commons)