The Good Samaritan

Many students have described their decision to enter health care as paramount to a religious calling. In class discussions, it is common for some of them to cite religious doctrine to support their arguments and justify a course of action. No doubt, admission committees for medical and nursing programs consider religious fervor a positive attribute in their applicants because it is a good indicator for someone who is probably honest, hardworking, caring, selfless and dedicated. Also, the chance of disciplinary problems seems minimal for the student who professes an allegiance to divine laws, especially if those laws are in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist traditions. The school can trust that a pious student won’t participate in drunken debaucheries, orgies, plagiarism and other cardinal sins. So, it follows that the religious student is automatically an ethical one…right? Not necessarily. In fact, he or she may not even be a Good Samaritan.

Medical ethics is distinct from religious faith, and any single religion cannot act as the sole foundation for medical ethics. It is a matter of hierarchy, and because ethics considers all that we share as humanity, it cannot be a subcategory of any one particular religion. Ethics is the vessel which contains all worldly religions, as well as other cultural and ethnic traditions and practices…including science. Now, before someone accuses me of blasphemy, hear me out. By putting religion into the pot, I am not saying that we put God, Jehovah, or Allah there as well. It is possible to consider religion as one of many contextual features of ethical analysis, while recognizing that the Supreme Being remains omniscient. Religion is not the God it describes. The problem some students face in learning the ethical approach for delivering healthcare to diverse populations is that sometimes religiocentrism takes the place of ethicocentrism. That approach is not much different than ethnocentrism, when it comes to limiting one’s capacity of caring for a diverse patient population and arriving at an ethical solution to a medical dilemma.

The patient comes to us as a collection of puzzle pieces that we would like to think all fit together. Sometimes it is easier for us to fit those pieces together by standing in self-righteous judgment of different patients: the alcoholic got what he deserved, the pregnant teen should’ve just said no, and illegal aliens caused the demise of our healthcare system. Often this means that we try to make the patient fit into our mold of right and wrong or good and bad, rather than realize how patient and health provider fit together as part of a much larger picture. The big picture, for the medical professional, is defined by ethical principles of beneficence, nonmaleficence, empathy, compassion, and altruism. These principles are not contingent upon the patient’s religion or whether his or her life decisions violate our own moral standards. The ethical approach acts as the universal starting place for all human relationships; a place where we recognize our shared values

The Good Samaritan transcends religious differences to operate in the ethical realm. Recognizing medical ethics as the central premise of our calling as health professionals, we forgo moral judgment to focus on the act of caring for a fellow human being. In doing so, we open up the possibility for our own personal growth.


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