CHAPTER 18 Ethics and Jurisprudence
The study of ethics in dental hygiene involves the understanding of concepts of ethics, morals, mores. Relativism in ethics involves issues of behavior and belief. What is judged right varies among individuals, situations, cultures. Ethical theories form the basis of principles and rules.
An ethical dilemma occurs when two or more ethical principles are morally justifiable but only one is acted on. The outcome of such a situation varies according to the principle that is chosen. Ethical decision making involves several steps of analysis. Person responsible for the decision may need to make a moral evaluation of those involved, based on altruism. Patient is the autonomous person, and practitioner’s value system should NOT come into play; patient’s values are what is important.
With moral evaluation of publicity, the person publicly states his or her evaluation and on what it is based, while ultimacy is a judgment based on a moral evaluation that has no higher standard, based on societal trust. Example of societal trust is maintaining patient confidentiality and being concerned for the patient instead of one’s self-interest.
Understanding types of law and methods of avoiding lawsuits or dental liability is vitally important in the practice of dental hygiene. Jurisprudence is the philosophy of law. Civil law, which includes contract law and tort law, and criminal law are the two major types of law.
Scenario: The dental hygienist is completing an oral prophylaxis on a new patient. While she is retrieving a posterior scaler from her tray, the instrument slips from her hand and lands on her patient’s head. The instrument tip embeds in the scalp tissues. The hygienist carefully removes the instrument, cleanses the wound with antibacterial soap, applies pressure to stop the bleeding, and apologizes for the injury. The patient remains calm and says, “Don’t worry about it.” The hygienist documents the incident in the patient’s record.
Measures that are used to help avoid legal action include reasonably prudent or sensible practitioner, admissions against interest, res ipsa loquitur, proper documentation. Informed consent is discussed next.