AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. January 2005, Volume 7, Number 1.

Module 1

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Case 1.1: Potential Patients—A Call from the Emergency Department

Option Comparison

Option B—informing the emergency room that Mr. Jones is his patient—is the preferable choice because accepting Mr. Jones as a patient concretely fulfills the purpose of medicine, which is to "provide competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights" (Principles of Medical Ethics I.). Options A and C present "acceptable," though conflicting, options for the physician. Option A—telling the ER that Dr. Stevens cannot take on the care of Mr. Jones—is acceptable because up to this point Dr. Stevens has had no patient-physician relationship with Mr. Jones. Option C—providing care during an emergency without accepting him as a patient—is also acceptable because it acknowledges the acute nature of the situation and the assistance Dr. Stevens may be able to provide. Option D should be avoided because HIV status, by itself, does not justify refusing care.

Preferable: Option B

Acceptable: Options A and C

Avoid: Option D

Additional discussion and information

The people and events in this case are fictional. Resemblance to real events or to names of people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.