Are Doctors Ever Off Duty - Even When They've Had A Few To Drink?

May 15, 1998

(Too drunk to care)

In an ethical debate in this week's BMJ Dr David Cressey, an anaesthetist from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, writes about a dilemma he faced when confronted with a medical emergency at a sporting event, at which he had been drinking. He recalls the incident and the actions that he took and poses the question as to whether or not he did the right thing.

The BMJ publishes three responses to Dr Cressey's dilemma and the issues that the authors raise include:- Dr Cressey's mental functions might just as easily have been impaired by a 20 hour shift or a new baby which had kept him up all night; could a clumsy lay person put a patient in greater jeopardy than a doctor who has had a drink; it is unfair to expect doctors never to drink socially just in case a medical emergency arises; drawing up guidelines on alcohol use and treatment would be virtually impossible; for fear of being sued, should a doctor save his own skin at the expense of patients needing treatment and when are you too drunk to care?


(Ethanol, emergencies and ethical dilemmas)
Dr David Cressey, Registrar, Anaesthetic Department, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield

(Commentary: Guidelines could never be developed)
Professor Henk Rigter, Director, Trimbos Institute, Po Box 725, 3500 As Utrecht, Netherlands

(Commentary: Balance the risk as best you can)
Dr Gareth Rees, Consultant, Bristol Oncology Centre, Bristol

(Commentary: Doctors can never have a moral holiday)
Dr Patricia Walsh, Lecturer in Medical Ethics, Centre in Medical Law and Ethics, King's College, London


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