Why Study Health Care Ethics?

Earning a master’s degree in health care ethics will prepare you to tackle the many delicate ethical issues that abound in the world’s health care systems, including how policies at institutional, local, state and federal levels impact the way people are cared for.

As technology alters the health professions and access to world-class health care becomes increasingly disparate, an online Master of Science in Health Care Ethics from Creighton University can give you the tools you need to think critically about emerging ethical dilemmas and to apply ethical principles and theories to health care practices.

A central task of health care ethics is to identify conflicts between moral goods in the health care setting and then apply moral principles and other tools to analyze the underlying problems. One of the most common ways to do this is to use case studies drawn from clinical practice and classic legal decisions involving ethical issues. Case studies can be used to build a more comprehensive approach to ethical issues in clinical practice as well as a guide for future decision making.

A Diabetic Who Refuses Treatment for an Infection1

Horace Johnson is a 60-year-old, wheel-chair limited, patient suffering from insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) of ten year’s duration.  He has an infected, draining toe with bone exposed, cellulitis, and X-ray evidence of osteomyelitis brought on by the poor arterial circulation related to his IDDM.  He is noncompliant in visits to the out-patient clinic for care of his infection, has no insurance coverage, refuses social worker and psychiatric consults, and now is refusing further debridement of the decaying tissue around the infection.

Mr. Johnson had, on previous visits been seen by a consulting psychiatrist who found him to be eccentric, a semi-retired man who had done janitorial work and odd jobs through his adult life.  The psychiatrist had found some depression, but no evidence of mental illness that would have made it possible to declare him incompetent. Dr. Maria Garcia was very concerned about the infection.  She was afraid that he would lose the toe or worse, the foot, from gangrene if Mr. Johnson didn’t receive aggressive treatment. She contemplated hospitalizing him and using sedation in order to treat the foot.  She couldn’t imagine his losing a toe or foot simply because he was so stubborn he would not agree to her recommendation.

In cases like this when it appears that a patient seems to be choosing an action that isn’t in his best interest, what is the physician to do? Should she respect the patient’s decision or invoke the duty of benefitting the patient? How might policy or the law be helpful in sorting though choices? What are the long-term and short-term costs to the patient and the health care system overall when patients choose not to follow the recommendations of health professionals?

Creighton University’s online Master of Science in Health Care Ethics degree prepares students to navigate these health care ethics issues and others. With your degree you will have the tools and expertise to help the system evolve and ensure more evenly dispersed health care resources across the socioeconomic spectrum. To learn more about Creighton’s online Master’s in Health Care Ethics, call 866.717.6365 to speak to a program manager or request more information online.

1 Veatch, R., Haddad, A. & English, D. (2014). Case studies in biomedical ethics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.