The ethical dilemma facing health care workers today


Health care workers will face some very difficult decisions in the days ahead.  The decision: Am I willing to take care of coronavirus patients without proper protection?

This is a very personal dilemma. Everyone who goes into any part of medicine is there to help people. That’s what they do. They do it under very stressful conditions most of the time. It’s part of the job.  They accept it. They can verbally and sometimes physically assaulted regularly.  There is acceptance of that possibility.

Now we face a situation where they may be asked to put their lives and health on the line, along with those of their family members. Masks and other PPE equipment may run out. Some parts of the country are nearing the end of the supply.

So health care workers face an ethical dilemma. When nurses, doctors, NP/PAs, paramedics, etc. graduate, they agree to care for people under all kinds of conditions, doing our best.   There are people in groups like doctors without borders who put themselves in danger regularly. Should that be expected from the average doctor or nurse?

The lack of masks is national news.  New supply is just not happening.  People who sew are now being asked to make masks in the state of Washington. Hospitals are even trying to make their own masks.  It doesn’t look good.

If health care workers choose to work anyway without masks, reusing masks, they are almost guaranteed to get the virus.  They will be a danger to their coworkers. They will be a danger to the community and their family.

Health care workers work for money of their own free will. They are not like service members who are under the control of the military and have to do what they are told.

My guess is people will refuse to work without proper protection. They will refuse to sacrifice themselves and possibly their families. If I were still working, I would refuse. Would you?

Susan Shannon is a retired nurse who blogs at madness: tales of a retired emergency room nurse.

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