Just another day in your busy emergency department, except that today one of your patients ended up having a lumbar puncture positive for bacterial meningitis. You intubated the patient and were well within the three-foot radius for droplet exposure. You know that you need a single dose of ciprofloxacin and then you can safely go home to your family and friends. You could halt your work flow and get seen in your ED as a patient, but you could also just order that single dose of Cipro for the patient you’re currently treating and then take it yourself. The patient has Medicare; they are never going to pay for it. What’s standing in your way? Ethics!
We practice in high-stress environments, and are asked to make serious ethical decisions surrounding patient care and dispositions multiple times throughout each shift. We all have an individual moral compass to help us navigate, but we are also ethically guided and held accountable by an overarching document called the American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics.
History of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics
The first version of the Code of Medical Ethics was written in 1847, and the initial members of the AMA unanimously adopted it. Over the past 167 years, the Code has been through multiple revisions with amendments and additions as the health care arena has changed. The Code currently consists of a general preamble and the nine principles of medical ethics followed by 10 chapters of ethical policy. The Code is considered the real-world application of ethical principles to the modern practice of medicine.1