Ethics Case Study: Recently a social activist fighting against superstition was killed by a mob while addressing a public gathering in the area where you are posted as Chief Medical Officer in a government hospital. He had certain political affiliation to the ruling party. His body was sent to your hospital for post mortem. Meanwhile, you started getting telephone calls from some influential people and politicians pressurizing you to manipulate the post mortem report in a manner that the case of murder is not substantiated. You are also threatened for life if you do not comply or in case if you comply, offer is given to you for promotion as well as suitable monetary compensation. (a) What are the ethical conflicts the doctor faces in this case? (b) What would be consequence if the doctor does not stick to his professional ethics? (c) What would be practically right thing to do for the doctor and why? (250 words) (20 marks)

Model answer:

  • The Civil Servant (here Chief Medical Officer) has a dilemma between his professional ethics, his personal security and career progression and the consequences of his decisions would be at both the levels- public as well as personal. As far as post mortem of the dead body is concerned it should be purely guided by his professional ethics.
  • In the above case, if the doctor doesn’t stick to his professional ethics he will fail to comply with the oath he took as a doctor. No amount of political pressure should deter him from performing his duty. Manipulating the report, though may save him from outside pressure but he will be guilty before himself. So, it is not an ethical action on his part.
  • As far as threats to his personal life are concerned, these should not deter him from carrying out his duty in the public interest and upholding the sanctity of the institution and position that he holds. He should also uphold the cause of noble profession of his profession as doctor and abide by his oath of profession as well as office.
  • In such circumstances, nevertheless, a civil servant would have to be very vigilant about his security and not careless or foolhardy. If at all he wants to uphold the cause of life and liberty of the people, his own well-being is also a part of that otherwise his valour and courage would be of no use. If need be he must seek police protection and caution about the impending threat to relevant authorities who are not a party to the political group that is creating pressure.
  • He should also follow the due process of law as well as post mortem so that he can hold his position in front of any scrutiny.
  • The civil servant should not fall prey to greed of money or promotion, generally in all times and particularly, when the case is related to human life and liberty on the one hand and authoritarian and brute power on the other. So the postmortem should be carried out without succumbing to any pressure.
  • There is a practical angle too. If the Civil Servant thinks that there are rational elements in bureaucracy as well as among political power, which often have such people, he should also make them aware about the problems in doing his duty in good confidence. It may help in avoiding outside pressure. In such cases it is also important to assess the people with whom the officer shares his apprehensions.


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