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  • Reverend James Squire

Ethics Case Study #2 and #3: Surgeon and a Resident Outcome

The two articles above outline different dimensions of this ethical case study

Two things that should be noted in most sexual harassment policies is providing the opportunity for the two people to come to agreement on what occurred. They met. We don’t know who was present with them. It did not resolve the situation. Part of that failure to agree had to do with the difference in power between a surgeon and a resident.

Jefferson and Rothman both managed to have both of these people distanced from their facilities.

The case in court this week between Dr. Phillips and Dr. Abraham has been settled out of court.

The above article summarizes deliberations to date.

Let’s look at the possible ethical issues. First when a trial is settled mid trial, it leaves the reader with an incomplete view of those people involved. All that we know is that the two physicians wanted their truth which is different from both heard in the public view. Jefferson and Rothman were seen initially as two institutions that were interested in all the actions to be kept privately.

In ethics, there is a school of thought called consequentialism. Simply put, this means what are the consequences of the actions of the people involve? In this case, it appears that both physicians feel that they have “had their day in court” regarding their personal disagreements about what happened that night at the party and after the event. What they couldn’t come to an agreement on privately, they were able to achieve when litigation was their new context.

The blame seems to have shifted. Now the physicians feel that Rothman and Jefferson treated them badly so that the institutions would be perceived in a good light with the public.

Dr. Maya Angelou has a classic quotation: “If people show you who they are, believe them.” That goes for institutions as well. The doctors still may have issues with Jefferson and Rothman regarding what were the concerns of those two institutions. Was it helping the physicians involved or protecting their institutions? You can achieve both, but to date not in Rothman or Jefferson. Two things have come up that seem to reflect that the institutions did not act in good faith. Dr. Abraham feels that “he was squeezed out at Rothman” by not making his yearly quota. Dr. Phillips feels that “she was cut out of deliberations” by Jefferson and the board of Rothman who met with Abraham to get his side of the story but never asked to meet with her.

I have written several sexual harassment policies. One of the guidelines that I always included was that the process should work in a parallel fashion. No one should feel excluded as Dr. Phillips was.

I wonder what was the difference that enabled the two parties to come to a resolution in the context of a court where they could not do that in a private fashion. I understand that this was difficult because rape which is a crime was on the table. However, because of alcohol in excessive amounts was involved that would make this step hard, if not impossible, to achieve. The stake were high.

Included in the policies that I wrote was the issue that there should not be any “revenge” issues with the parties involved. The end game for Dr. Abraham was that he was ultimately fired from Rothman because he didn’t meet a quota of bringing 1.3 million dollars when all of this was going on and he was asked to change hospitals from Jefferson to another Rothman facility in New Jersey. He felt that he “was squeezed out.” We don’t know how this event affected the professional life of Dr. Phillips. All we know is that “she is practicing on the West Coast.”

We do know that we can agree that this event and the circumstances after was emotionally damaging to both individuals. We do know that they both wanted to do something, sue and countersue, to get their reputations back. It doesn’t appear that either institution had an investment in their achieving that goal. Both Rothman and Jefferson seemed to have an inadequate response to both people in terms of fairness in the process or providing support and care of these two people even though both used poor judgement at the party. In ethics, it is not only about what you do, but what you don’t do.

Could you make a decision about the above case study. When teaching ethics, you learn quickly that students want to know additional information so that the decision would be easier for them. What additional information would make it easier for you to make a decision?

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