Ethical and Societal Dilemmas in Modern Medicine

How Can We Balance Ethics and Law When Treating Smokers?

Helen Senderovich


A physician is a valued member of society on whom many individuals rely for both professional advice and support during times where they may feel to be at a disadvantage, whether it be physically or mentally. An issue on the rise today concerns the population of smokers in our society. Many are coming to share the opinion that physicians should not provide treatments for smokers. Some of the opinions are based on the claim that smokers are morally responsible for their medical conditions. But, providing care in a fair manner includes not treating differently those who suffer from addiction. Moreover, it is important to recognize that allocating medical resources based on moral responsibility will undermine the physician–patient relationship which is necessary for the practice of medicine. Many countries have codes and policies that physicians must legally follow in terms of providing treatments. With acceptance of the fact that the patient may be unable to execute the decisions made by the physician, it is the legal duty of the physician to provide care and not abandon the patient. An analysis of the many policies around the world brings forward certain changes that must be made in order to make sure that physicians fulfil their legal duty, which is to provide care. As such, this article looks into the existing ethical dilemma in treating smokers around the world, with a review of some policies that will guide our approach in this matter.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2016;7(2):e0011