Patient Autonomy vs. The Ethical Obligations of the Medical Community: The Case of Dax Cowart

The judgment from an ethical perspective concerning whether or not the doctors and nurses treating Dax Cowart were ultimately ethical in character depends on deciding whether the autonomy of the patient or the duty of the medical community to save lives takes precedent. This seems to be an irreconcilable conflict when the patient’s wishes contradict the duty of the medical community, in so far as the latter, for example, is founded on ethical commitments to the Hippocratic oath, which denote the obligation to attempt to save the patient’s life. To support Dax’s decision, therefore, can only be argued from the perspective of the patient’s autonomy. However, it seems like this is a symptom of our individualistic culture: everything ultimately comes down to some idealized version of the individual, who is viewed as the basic element of all society. In this case, however, the individual is treated as a sort of “all-knowing” entity. But this is not how our existence itself is structured: it is based on relationships, and conceding patient autonomy above all else replaces this with an almost egotistical individuality. The medical community are experts in the field and therefore have a knowledge of the situation that is in most cases beyond those of the patient: furthermore, the medical community has its clear ethical duties to uphold. In this regard, the decision to save Dax despite his protests, was firstly, the medical community’s fulfilment of their occupational obligations, and thus they acted ethically according to this duty, and, secondly, it is an acknowledgement that some decisions perhaps are too much for an individual to make, especially an individual who has suffered trauma from such a devastating injury.