Survey queries clinical ethics

April 6, 2001

Nearly half the medical students questioned in a recently released survey have performed procedures they felt were unethical.

The 1997 survey of University of Toronto medical students has revealed the uneasy situations often talked about in medical schools. Of the 103 students surveyed, 47 reported instances in which they carried out procedures they felt were unethical. The graduating students cited cases where they were asked by institutions to close wounds, give psychotherapy without supervision and ask patients to return for follow-up visits solely for teaching purposes.

In that same poll, published in the British Medical Journal , 61 per cent reported having seen instructors perform unethical practices - including a pelvic exam on an unconscious patient who had not consented to be examined.

Co-author David Robertson, who is set to graduate later this spring, said in an interview with the Canadian Press news service that although students reported being put in unethical positions at times, it was not an everyday occurrence.

The Toronto administration, whose medical faculty had consented to the survey, said its students could refuse unethical actions and were encouraged to report unethical behaviour. Since the survey was conducted, Toronto has enhanced its medical ethics curriculum.

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