Ethical Dilemma in Healthcare: A Case Study Analysis

Healthcare ethical challenges need critical analysis and decision-making. Eleanor Thompson, a 72-year-old with severe ovarian cancer, faces a difficult ethical problem in end-of-life decision-making. The decision to pursue experimental therapy or palliative care is complicated. This study prepares for a full discussion of the ethical considerations and the use of the ethical decision-making model in this complex healthcare situation.

Overview of the Case Study

Eleanor Thompson, aged 72, has been grappling with aggressive ovarian cancer for three years. Despite enduring extensive chemotherapy and radiation, her health markedly declined, inducing intense pain. Dr. Samuel Martinez, her oncologist, proposes an experimental treatment alongside the option of transitioning to palliative care, introducing an ethical dilemma. Within Eleanor’s family, opposing viewpoints emerge: Maria advocates for aggressive treatment, while Michael supports palliative care. Caught in the emotional crossfire is Eleanor’s husband, Robert, navigating conflicting desires to honor her fighting spirit or alleviate her pain. This complex scenario necessitates a careful examination of ethical principles and decision-making factors.

Analysis of Ethical Issues in the Case Study

The ethical decision-making model delves into the intricacies of Eleanor Thompson’s case, offering a thorough framework. In the initial phase of moral awareness, Dr. Martinez and the healthcare team identify the ethical quandary surrounding Eleanor’s treatment. The dilemma arises from the choice between experimental treatment and transitioning to palliative care, presenting varying implications for Eleanor’s welfare. Each option has advantages and disadvantages, contributing to the complexity of the decision-making process.

In navigating moral judgments, the healthcare team encounters the challenging responsibility of appraising optimal actions. Maria’s preference for sustained aggressive treatment adheres to the beneficence principle, aspiring to enhance Eleanor’s lifespan. On the other side, Michael’s leaning towards palliative care corresponds to the non-maleficence principle, striving to alleviate Eleanor’s distress. The team grapples with this intricate decision-making process, weighing the tension between maximizing life expectancy and minimizing suffering. As a crucial decision-maker, Dr. Martinez must reconcile these conflicting values and make a judgment that balances the pursuit of potential benefits with the avoidance of unnecessary harm. The moral judgment involves navigating the delicate balance between honoring Eleanor’s fighting spirit and ensuring her comfort in the final stages of her battle against cancer.

Delving into ethical behavior, the chosen course of action must align with the ethical principles guiding healthcare decisions. The factors contributing to this ethical problem include Eleanor’s deteriorating health, the option of experimental treatment, and the potential consequences of each decision. Eleanor’s deteriorating health serves as a catalyst, intensifying the ethical dilemma by narrowing the window for effective interventions. The availability of another experimental treatment introduces the prospect of extending Eleanor’s life but also raises questions about the potential for increased suffering. The family’s conflicting perspectives compound the issue, adding emotional complexity to the decision-making process. These factors collectively contribute to the ethical problem by creating a multifaceted scenario where the healthcare team must weigh competing principles, values, and potential outcomes in Eleanor’s best interest. Thus, navigating this ethical landscape demands a nuanced understanding of the interplay between these factors and a commitment to upholding ethical principles amidst inherent uncertainties.

Using the Ethical Decision-Making Model to Analyze the Case Study

In the quest to enrich the analysis of the ethical dilemma surrounding Eleanor Thompson’s case, let’s take one article, “Ethical decision making during a healthcare crisis: a resource allocation framework and tool,” this article introduces a structured approach to decision-making in situations of resource scarcity. This article is invaluable in the context of Eleanor’s case, offering insights into navigating complex ethical decisions when faced with limited treatment options and potential resource constraints. The resource allocation framework presented in the article aligns with the ethical decision-making model by emphasizing the importance of considering diverse stakeholder perspectives and combining institutional objectives with procedural values and ethical principles (Guidolin et al., 2022). Applying principles from this article to Eleanor’s case underscores the significance of a systematic and inclusive approach that addresses the complexities of resource allocation and ethical considerations.

Delving into the intricacies of ethical decision-making in the medical domain, the enlightening article “Utilizing practical wisdom for fostering ethical decision-making: An extensive empirical exploration of phronesis within doctors’ decision narratives,” sheds light on the pivotal role of practical wisdom, termed as phronesis, in this process. A substantial empirical study, this piece significantly enhances our understanding of Eleanor’s case by underscoring the significance of accumulated wisdom derived from past ethical dilemmas. Healthcare practitioners like Dr. Martinez grapple with intricate ethical choices, emphasizing the indispensability of drawing upon experiential wisdom. The article underscores phronesis as a variant of wisdom, offering guidance to professionals navigating the complexities of an ethical domain, thus enriching the discourse on ethical decision-making in the medical context (Conroy et al., 2021). By incorporating principles from this article, the analysis gains depth by recognizing the significance of experiential wisdom in ethical decision-making. Their relevance to Eleanor’s case provides a robust foundation for integrating scholarly perspectives into the ethical analysis, reinforcing the importance of a well-informed and evidence-based approach to decision-making in healthcare settings.

Navigating Family and Ethical Decisions

In the delicate realm of family dynamics and ethical decision-making, the communication approaches in Eleanor Thompson’s case bear significant weight. The case study does not explicitly outline the specifics of Dr. Samuel Martinez’s communication but implies an open and transparent approach to presenting treatment options. Effectiveness surfaces in instances where Dr. Martinez likely conveyed clear, comprehensive information about Eleanor’s condition, potential benefits and risks of treatment options, and the implications of each decision. If he also demonstrated active listening to the family’s concerns, acknowledged their emotions, and provided emotional support, these elements contribute to an effective communication strategy.

However, potential instances of ineffective communication might manifest if the information is withheld, presented in a manner difficult for the family to comprehend, or if the family’s concerns and emotions are disregarded. In navigating such complex decisions, effective communication involves a patient-centered and family-centered approach, wherein clear information is provided, concerns are acknowledged, and families are actively involved in the decision-making process. Avoiding communication approaches that involve withholding information, using complex medical jargon, or making decisions without involving the patient and family is crucial. Effective communication fosters a better understanding of the situation, reduces anxiety and conflict, builds trust in the healthcare team, and ensures decisions align with the patient’s dignity, autonomy, and well-being. Conversely, ineffective communication can lead to misunderstandings, increased anxiety, a lack of trust, and decisions that may not be in the patient’s best interest, exacerbating ethical dilemmas and complicating their resolution. Thus, the consequences of communication approaches in this case have far-reaching implications for Eleanor and her family’s overall well-being and satisfaction.

Effectiveness of the Approach Used by a Professional to Deal with Problems or Issues Involving Ethical Practice in the Case Study

Dr. Samuel Martinez, facing the ethical dilemma in Eleanor Thompson’s case, took a comprehensive approach by presenting the family with both the option of experimental treatment and transitioning to palliative care. This indicates a commendable effort to involve the family in decision-making, aligning with patient autonomy and beneficence principles. However, the case study lacks details on how Dr. Martinez managed differing family views or provided emotional support. Evaluating his actions, he appears to navigate professional responsibilities effectively by considering potential benefits and harms, reflecting a balanced approach to beneficence and non-maleficence. The key lesson for healthcare professionals lies in the importance of transparent communication, involving families in decision-making, and balancing conflicting values to uphold ethical principles in complex situations.


In conclusion, Eleanor Thompson’s situation brings to the forefront the complex interplay among ethical principles, family dynamics, and communication within healthcare decisions. By employing the ethical decision-making model, incorporating academic insights, and analyzing communication strategies, a more nuanced grasp of the intricacies emerges. Dr. Martinez’s method demonstrates a thoughtful weighing of benefits and harms. This case underscores the importance of clear communication, family participation, and an ongoing dedication to ethical healthcare practices. It is a key reminder for healthcare practitioners to approach dilemmas with empathy, understanding, and a steadfast dedication to patient-centered care.


Conroy, M., Malik, A. Y., Hale, C., Weir, C., Brockie, A., & Turner, C. (2021). Using practical wisdom to facilitate ethical decision-making: A major empirical study of phronesis in the decision narratives of doctors. BMC Medical Ethics, pp. 22, 1–13.

Guidolin, K., Catton, J., Rubin, B., Bell, J., Marangos, J., Munro-Heesters, A., … & Quereshy, F. (2022). Ethical decision making during a healthcare crisis: a resource allocation framework and tool. Journal of Medical Ethics, 48(8), 504-509.

Author: Gedeon Luke
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