AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. October 2001, Volume 3, Number 10.

Cases in Law and Ethics

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Renewing a Prescription for a Relative

Commemorative Issue: Educating for Professionalism

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 and to 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 telephones his sister and asks her to call in a prescription refill. Ann readily complies, believing that her brother's circumstances warrant her to use her status and authorize the prescription refill.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What do you think of Ann's reasoning? What other options does she have? Is she putting her brother Michael in any danger by refilling his prescription?
  2. Would the situation be different if Michael were Ann's friend? Does the type of illness or medication make a difference?
  3. Why is it considered unethical for physicians to treat their immediate family members?
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