The struggle for clinical ethics in Jordanian Hospitals

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 16 (3):309-321 (2019)
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Abstract

The Arab and Islamic world is in cultural, political and ethical flux. Pressures of globalisation contend with ancient ideas and concepts that permeate cultural frameworks. Health professionals are among the many groups battling to accommodate the rapidly changing conditions. In many predominantly Muslim countries intense debates are underway among clinicians about the impact of the forces of change on their practices. To help understand these forces we conducted a study of the experiences of clinicians in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a Middle Eastern nation state where the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim. The sample contained 508 doctors and doctors-in-training, of whom 63% were male and 80% were younger than 40 years of age. It included both a quantitative survey, covering a wide range of issues, and qualitative, free-text written responses. Our results demonstrated high levels of disquiet related to the overall organisation and administration of the health care system, the specific content of ethical decisionmaking, and the impact of changing social, cultural and religious factors. Concerns included overcrowding, widespread corruption and hierarchical, non- democratic, management practices, and tensions relating to traditional and modern approaches to ethics, especially in relation to consent, organ donation, confidentiality, privacy, abortion, and the role of women. The roles of religion and religious authorities, the relative importance of the family, and community and tribal obligations were also areas of contention. The study exposes profound divisions and widely differing perspectives among Jordanian doctors and an abiding sense of uncertainty and instability within the profession. Many doctors express ambivalence in relation to both modern trends and traditional precepts. Three main axes of ethical contention were demonstrated, relating to the tensions between: "conservative" and "pragmatic" styles of decision-making; "traditional" approaches and internationalised standards of ethics; and the role of Islam and pressures to disengage ethical decision- making from religious authority. We speculate that these issues and divisions, and the deep sense of disquiet revealed by our data reflect large-scale forces to which Jordanian society is exposed and to a substantial degree may provide a way to understand the ethical predicament of many other countries in the contemporary Arab world.

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