Ethics, Law, and Medical Practice

By Kerry J. Breen; Vernon D. Plueckhahn et al. | Go to book overview
fair-trading etc.). The community is clearly attracted to use the services and products of the alternative health care system, as consumer research indicates a huge annual expenditure on this.13Registered medical practitioners are not prohibited from prescribing or recommending alternative and unproven remedies, but if they choose to do so, should be aware that this carries additional ethical responsibilities. The Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria has advised doctors that:
Special care must be taken to inform patients when therapy is unproven and to fully inform patients of any risks associated with such therapy.
Patients who are offered alternative remedies must not be denied access to standard proven therapies of a type which would be provided by most medical peers.
For alternative therapies with risks of serious side effects, the patient should be advised to seek a second independent medical opinion.
Doctors must not gain financial advantage by selling alternative therapeutic substances directly to patients.

In addition to these general guidelines, the NHMRC has from time to time issued advice on unproven remedies, as for example the statement on the lack of indication for the use of chelation therapy (other than for heavy metal poisoning). Other alternate therapies which are presently regarded as unproven, unjustified and dangerous include ozone therapy and megavitamin therapy.


PATENTING OF MEDICAL PROCEDURES

Society accepts that pharmaceuticals and technological equipment may be subject to patent protection. Until recently, doctors had tacitly agreed that clinical procedures (e.g. new operations, new physical treatments, new ways of performing clinical procedures) would not be subject to such protection. Indeed under the Hippocratic Code and subsequent codes of ethics, there is a clear ethical imperative to pass on such advances freely to other doctors. While the medical profession at large does not wish to disturb this desirable situation, individual doctors have applied for patents for new treatments and it appears that courts will deal with such applications on legal grounds and not be influenced by medical ethics.14


REFERENCES

1 "'Declaration of Helsinki. Recommendations guiding physicians in biomedical research involving human subjects.'" Aust Health and Med Law Reporter 1995; 57-950: 68, 961-3.

2 Statement on scientific practice. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council, 1990.

3 International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Uniform requirements formanuscripts submitted to biomedical journals

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