The Nigerian society is facing a challenge to toe the path of evolution in order to become an egalitarian and civilised society. The responsibility of actualising this, however, is not that of the leaders alone. There is the need for other stakeholders to buy into the initiative.
Already, this process is evolving at all levels of the society, as old parochial ways of doing things are giving way in the light of universal best practices.
One of the most recent is the peaceful democratic transition from an incumbent presidency to an opposition party through the electoral process. This has taken us several steps ahead in terms of leadership orientation in such a way that it will be difficult for any group of persons to reverse.
This comes with certain attributes and expectations such as accountability and responsible citizenship. The understanding of ethics provides an empirical and strong template for developing a sane society through a dispassionate engagement of prevailing practices, traditions and mores in the contexts of universal best practices.
The African society through our culture has, over the years, passed down to us various definitions, prescriptions and superstitions uninterrogated. This genetic coding of our lives, unfortunately, has been responsible for our underdevelopment.
Ethics provide a faculty of interrogation of practices that are not only parochial but also dehumanising. Ethics, therefore, is a science of morals, an area of study dealing with ideas of good and bad behaviour. It also deals with what is right or wrong, according to moral principles.
Prof. Ayantayo J.K defines ethics as a systematic study of human actions, to determine goodness and badness, rightness or wrongness with attention on how they affect the performer of the act, the recipient as well as the society.
This definition provides the template for ethics in society building. It is in this context that I consider the application of the principles of ethics in medical practice.
Medical practice has had a chequered history. It has been guided by several traditions and principles designed to protect the patients and encourage good practices.
There is the popular Hippocratic Oath that stipulates responsibilities of a doctor to his patient, his teachers, his colleagues and the society.
Medical practice deals with the lives of human beings directly, which could be subject to abuse. This professional privilege should be subject to certain responsibilities and modulations.
Our society does not have a well-developed legal framework to serve the responsibility hence there are many loopholes that can be exploited to the disadvantage of the patient and society by an ungoverned doctor.
It is at this point I customise the discourse of ethics in a conceptual framework of moral responsibility, moral development, moral character and altruism, which involves service above self in the ultimate interest of the vulnerable patient.
This paradigm for me is superior to culture, religion and any other premise of reference. Medical ethics is therefore the interrogation of issues emanating from the process involved in the care of the patient in the context of moral principles.
These moral principles are very relevant in the definition of ethics and can be described as universal narratives like justice, fairness, honesty and trust. They are universal frames of reference that are coded in the human conscience.
Medical practitioners in Nigeria could mischievously hide behind loopholes in our constitution or absence of virile legal frameworks to unleash terror on the valuable patient and the society.
Medical ethics in the context of universal moral principles interrogate diverse issues as they arise, which may even unseat existing obsolete and parochial medical laws. This provides an avenue to challenge practices found to be harmful irrespective of its historical antecedents or popularity.
This positions the medical ethics as the progenitor of new and egalitarian approaches in the creating of medical laws that ensure good practice. Medical ethics, therefore, is a template to interrogate existing medical tradition within the unusual framework of moral principles to safeguard the practice and ensure that it adds up to the society.
The death of ethics means the death of civilisation and the enthronement of mediocrity. Medical culture may vary from nation to nation on certain issues but the universality of moral principles remains sacrosanct anywhere in the world.
Many contemporary issues in the practice of medicine in Nigeria are potentially harmful to the society. The society, especially the government, also owes medical practitioners certain basic responsibilities to justify the legitimate demand on them to conform to highest moral standards in the discharge of their professional duties.