x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

It's time to talk about ethics, say the medics

More than 600 attendees at the inaugural conference on ethics at UAE University emphasise that regional sensibilities differ from the West, and experts want newly arrived doctors and nurses to learn the differences.

AL AIN // The UAE needs a continuous discussion on medical ethics, experts said yesterday.

More than 600 doctors, nurses and academics gathered at the UAE University in Al Ain yesterday for the country's first annual conference on the subject.

Dr Kassem Alom, the managing director of Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said it was about time for such a debate.

Dr Ahmed Majed, the assistant managing director at Al Noor, complained that most doctors here have been taught about Western ethical standards, but often have little idea of sensibilities in the Middle East.

"Knowledge of the cultural background of a society is mandatory before making judgement," he said. "In a country so diverse as the UAE, doctors need to know the cultural background of everyone they are dealing with in order to be ethical."

Professor Rebecca Jester, head of nursing at Fatima College of Health Sciences in Al Ain, said there was a severe lack of ethics textbooks and journals set in the context of Islam and UAE culture. She called on local experts to "very seriously consider" writing some.

Dr Fawaz Torab, an associate professor at UAE University, said students need be taught to consider their manner towards patients.

"There are language barriers, a lack of knowledge of traditional religious backgrounds, which will cause us to speak to a patient here without taking into consideration the tradition and religious background of this patient," he said.

Doctors new to the country should be given an orientation course, he said. They need to know, for example, that some patients prefer to involve the head of the family, rather than the spouse, in decision-making. Patients are also likely to accept news differently, he said.

The challenge remains in the impossibility of measuring an individual's ethics, said Dr Hatem al Ameri, section head of post-graduate medical education at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, which organised the conference.

The key, he said, is providing students with role models to show them how to take a patient's background into account when making moral judgements.

Dr Majed suggested the health authority require fresh training in ethics as part of the licensing of doctors and nurses. "It is the only way to safeguard both the patient and the doctor," he said.

Prof Hossam Bakir, head of opthalmology at Al Noor, said the only way to truly measure whether doctors are acting ethically is to ask whether they would treat a relative the same as they treat patients.

"Would you recommend the same surgery, prescribe the same treatment, use the same words?"