Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ethical limits of physician's care for patients?

What sacrifices should health care workers be prepared to make in order to provide care to their patients? In affluent societies, this question is usually raised hypothetically in regard to patient care during epidemics of highly infectious and deadly diseases. Should doctors treat patients when doing so poses grave risks to themselves?
In Zimbabwe, a similar question is raised by routine medical care in a context of political, economic and social disintegration. And the medical corps in the state hospitals answered it, in a sense, by going on strike for the last months, and paralysing the nation's health care system. These things happen when your country's inflation rate hits a mind-blowing 3731%: doctors cannot make a living wage, and patients cannot hope to pay their hospital bills.
Are striking doctors in such a case going against the Hippocratic tradition? Are doctors to shoulder the blame for a government that has abandoned the majority of its people? Is soldiering on, working for poverty-line wages with diminishing resources, what should be expected from Zimbabwean doctors from an ethical point of view? Are outside observers correct in condemning them if they 'drop their tools' and protest their conditions?