"It is the privilege of the medical doctor to practice medicine in the service of humanity, to preserve and restore bodily and mental health without distinction as to persons, to comfort and to ease the suffering of his or her patients. The utmost respect for human life is to be maintained even under threat, and no use made of any medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity."
Law is the dominant force behind American medical ethics, and has been for at least the past half-century. That lawyers and judges, rather than physicians, have set the agenda for medical ethics in the United States is a bit surprising to many in the field of medical ethics, but it should not be. Medicine has historically been based on paternalism.
Incarcerated individuals—even those who are awaiting trial and still retain the presumption of innocence—have a reduced right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. Within prison walls the rights of the state must be balanced with the prisoner's right to refuse treatment.
Vaccination of armed services personnel raises a serious human rights concern. Although vaccination of health workers and the general public involves voluntary, individual decisions (at least as of this writing), smallpox vaccination of armed services personnel is mandatory absent a medical exemption.
In the absence of a comprehensive approach to national health reform, the health delivery market in the United States has been transforming itself. One of the most significant and least noticed changes in the current healthcare market has been the unprecedented growth in size and influence of religious health systems, and their impact on access to comprehensive health services, including reproductive health services, end of life decisions, and emerging medical technologies.
Patients in the United States, including those seriously ill and dying, are routinely undertreated for pain. In a landmark study, researchers found that 50% of all patients who died during hospitalization "experienced moderate or severe pain at least half of the time during their last three days of life." That one out of two dying patients endure pain unnecessarily is a little noticed human rights tragedy.
In the best of circumstances, youthful offenders with mental health issues face formidable hurdles. However, at a time when resources are dwindling and legislators are "tough on crime," we are faced with difficult questions about the rights of this troubled population—and our responsibilities to them.
In Diaz v. Hillsborough County Hospital Authority, a group of approximately 5,000 pregnant women brought a class action claiming that while receiving prenatal care from the defendant hospital, they were subjected to research tests without being informed that the tests were for research and without being asked to consent.
The United States continues to experience a chronic shortage of transplantable organs; more than 70,000 Americans are on waiting lists, and more than a dozen die each day because a needed vital organ is not available. Currently, the sale of organs is prohibited in the United States, but proposals have been made over the years to lift this ban.
Dr. Jane Hodgson, now eighty-eight years old, has devoted her entire life to improving women's health and protecting women's lives.