Tanenbaum’s Religious Diversity in Health Care program recently attended The Columbia University Center for Bioethic’s Lunch Seminar Series, sponsored by The Gold Foundation. Dr. George Hardart, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, gave a talk on the moral, ethical, and religious dilemmas of performing cardiac surgery on the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstance to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.” (Prince vs. Massachusetts, 1944)
So how do doctors balance their medical, ethical, and legal responsibilities with their obligations to patients and the families of those patients? Ultimately there is no easy answer. What we do know is that communication, empathy, and trust are key elements in navigating these very complex ethical waters. If they can’t help us find a way out, they can at least help us find a way through.