AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. March 2000, Volume 2, Number 3.

Cases in Law and Ethics

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Renewing a Prescription for a Relative

An ethical case explores whether it is ethically appropriate for physicians to treat their immediate family members.

Both ethics and law address norms that govern physicians' behavior. Many view the law as a baseline for articulating the limits placed on individuals living within society as well as an enabling device to facilitate social relationships. Encompassing as the law may be in some areas of human conduct, in many others it is silent. In the absence of legal norms or prohibitions, physicians often find guidance in the standards arrived at through ethical reasoning.

To guide students through the process of ethical reasoning and to acquaint them with case law, a new case study will appear every 2 to 4 weeks. Students will be given legal and/or ethical opinions to assist their decision-making.

March Case Scenario

Ann is completing her internship year at a major teaching hospital. Her brother Michael, who lives 100 miles away in a rural setting in the same state, has been seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety disorder and depression and has been taking medication for his illness. Without the medication, he would have severe panic attacks that would force him to avoid most social situations as well as experience episodic bouts of severe depression. Michael is almost at the end of his medication and learns that his psychiatrist is out of town on vacation. He decides to call his sister and ask her to call in a prescription refill. Ann readily complies, feeling that her brother's circumstances warrant her to use her status and authorize the prescription refill.

  1. What do you think of Ann's reasoning?
  2. Is it ethically appropriate for physicians to treat their immediate family members?

See what the AMA Code of Medical Ethics says about this topic in Opinion 8.19 Self-treatment or treatment of immediate family members. American Medical Association. Code of Medical Ethics 2008-2009 Edition. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 2008:288-289.

Related Articles

  • La Puma J, Stocking CB, La Voie D, Darling CA. When physicians treat members of their own families: practice in a community hospital. N Engl J Med. 1991;325:1290-1294. Abstract of article available at: MEDLINE. Accessed February 18, 2000.
  • Reagan B, Reagan P, Sinclair A. "Common sense and a thick hide:" physicians providing care to their own family members. Arch Fam Med. 1994;3:599-604. Abstract of article available at: MEDLINE. Accessed February 18, 2000.
  • Levin ES. The "doctor game" revisited: doctor's treatment of their own children. Int J Psychoanal Psychother. 1984-1985;10:505-524. Abstract of article available at: MEDLINE. Accessed February 18, 2000.
  • Dusdieker LB, Murph JR, Murph WE, Dungy CI. Physicians treating their own children. Am J Dis Child. 1993;147:146-149. Abstract of the article available at: MEDLINE. Accessed February 18, 2000.
  • La Puma J, Priest ER. Is there a doctor in the house? An analysis of the practice of physicians' treating their own families. JAMA. 1992;267:1810-1812. Abstract of the article available at: MEDLINE. Accessed February 18, 2000.
The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.