Robert A. Pearlman and Helene E. Starks
Quantitative study of problems in medical ethics can be quite useful. For instance, this approach to studying ethical problems has fostered increased communication and understanding between ethicists and clinicians. Ethicists have also learned about the variability in practice behaviors (e.g., how physicians sometimes provide and sometimes withhold treatment based on their own subjective perceptions of patient benefit), ethical issues that clinicians confront (e.g., requests from patients or their families for treatment perceived to be medically futile), and the difficulties that clinicians face when trying to implement ethics policies (e.g., the difficulties of shared decision making with regard to foregoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This approach to ethical analysis and the results of multiple studies helped ethicists reframe old questions and deliberate about new ones (Brody, 1990; Pearlman, Miles, and Arnold 1993; Pearlman, 1994). Over the last two decades, many more clinicians have also started to study ethical problems in medicine in a broader sense, perhaps because quantitative methods and inferential statistics permitted broader interpretations and generalizations. In addition, this area of inquiry gradually became a legitimate career pathway for physician and nurse researchers.
In this chapter, quantitative survey methods are described and critiqued. Examples are presented to demonstrate how these methods have addressed topics of concern in medical ethics.
Before conducting a study, several issues need to be considered. First and foremost, it is essential to identify and to specify explicitly the goal(s) of the study. After these goals are specified, they should be formulated into answerable study questions. For example, an investigator might have the goal of wanting to characterize how physicians respond to requests for assisted suicide. The answerable study questions, however, might be the following: (1) How do physicians discuss with patients (and their families) the motivation for these requests? (2) How do physicians modify their Treatment plans after hearing about patients' interest in assisted suicide? (3) Do physicians obtain other professional opinions for