5 Steps to Solving Healthcare Ethical Dilemmas

Ethics play a major role in the healthcare industry. After all, you are responsible for people’s lives and their wellbeing. Every healthcare professional knows about the four pillars of medical ethics, but what do you do when you’re faced with an ethical dilemma?  

A dilemma could be as small as accepting a gift or as major as making a life-altering decision. Unfortunately, ethical dilemmas do not have a singular correct answer, and your choice depends solely on your own ethics.  

What are the Four Pillars of Medical Ethics? 

The four pillars of medical ethics are: 

  1. Autonomy- patients actively make decisions for their own treatment 
  1. Beneficence- consciously make actions that benefits the patient 
  1. Non-maleficence- do no harm onto patients  
  1. Justice- provide care to patients fairly regardless of their situation 

Ethical dilemmas don’t have a black and white solution, but you can use these pillars to help you make decisions. There are many approaches you can use to make a decision, such as the utilitarian approach or the virtue approach.  

You can use a variety of methods to solve ethical problems, but here is a 5-step process that can help. 

Solving ethical dilemma graphic

5 Steps to Ethical Decision Making 

Step 1: Assess 

Make sure you have all the facts necessary to make a decision. This will help you understand the patient’s situation and give you clarity on what the best choice would be for them. If you only have some of the facts, you will be forced to make assumptions, which can harm the patient. 

Step 2: Consideration 

Before you make a decision, make sure you have considered all of your choices. At the same time, think about what the outcome of each choice would be. Would the choice you make be in line with the four pillars? 

Step 3: Analyze 

At this point, you probably have a couple of choices you’re leaning towards and others you have eliminated. Analyze these choices and determine whether going through with it will provide the anticipated results and what the potential consequences are. 

Step 4: Explain 

If you make that decision, how will others see it? You will have to be able to explain your decision and justify it to other people. The patient and their family will also have to comprehend and accept your decision as well. By going through the 5 steps, you will be able to provide your reasoning on your choice. 

Step 5: Action 

Making a choice during a dilemma is hard, but once you go through all your alternatives and reasoning, you can implement your decision with more confidence. Afterwards, remember to evaluate your decision and the results. 

Solving Dilemmas 

As a healthcare professional, you will face ethical dilemmas where you need to make a choice. Making decisions will never get easier but using the 5-step process will help you figure out the best course of action for your patient.  


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