The health concerns such as excessive drinking, smoking or obesity demand a responsible action on the part of the governments around the world, which may result in restrictions on human freedom to some extent. Therein comes our role of adhering to the ethical standards and following the rules laid down to nurture a healthy society. Initially, people thought that government initiatives such as pasteurization of milk was an 'interference' in the public choices of food. The contention slowly faded away. Now, in the 21st century, there is a need to act more responsibly on the individual level to overcome 'lifestyle' diseases. How far is a society willing to accept certain amount of responsibility for public health is an ethical issue.
Understanding Health Ethics
Public health is a broad term and includes the efforts of a society to prevent any form of illness and improve the health of the populace. It plays an important role in determining the effects of an initiative or a measure, in prevention of an illness. It focuses on inculcating healthful lifestyle in the society at large, than dealing with individual health issues. Medical ethics is a term related with health ethics, which primarily deals with keeping track of growing biomedical technology, research and medical care. The term 'health' is a generic one, and includes both medicine and health concerns. They treat the issues of justice, equality, and human rights as an integral part of health practices. It is important to keep these ideals in mind while providing a health care service.
The practitioners of health services have a set of guiding principles which ensure certain standards and public trust in health care. The ethical code of conduct laid down ascertains a patient's welfare. There are many situations in health care that have legal and social implications, for both the medical practitioner and the patient. For example, the confidentiality of a patient's health records is the ethical responsibility of the physician handling the case. Another issue is the relevance of euthanasia or mercy killing. The question of 'freeing' a person from suffering is as much of an issue of morality as it is of medicine. In these contexts, ethical judgment and a guiding framework to deal with the issues becomes very important.
The importance of health ethics is a very relative concept in case of many individuals. A lady was about to deliver a baby, and medical complications required that blood transfusion be performed in order to save the mother. However, the lady was a strong adherent of some religious principle, and had already stated not to perform the transfusion even if that resulted in her death. Now, her husband gave the go-ahead for the procedure, and both the baby and the mother were saved. But, the mother filed a case against the concerned doctors, stating violation of her rights. Ethically, it may seem that saving her life was the right thing to do. But, the same can also be regarded as an infringement of the lady's rights, which makes it unethical.
Thus, the importance and adherence to these should be clearly laid down as a set of legal principles. Health is a community issue as much as an individual concern. Hence, a clear set of policies governing the importance of health ethics is highly essential to support healthy living in the 21st century.