Medical Ethics Questions: A Structure Approach

Medical ethics. Love it or hate it, chances are it will come up in more than one of your medical school interviews. Although this type of question terrifies most prospective medical students, it can be an easy area to demonstrate a greater knowledge of medicine...

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Medical ethics. Love it or hate it, the odds are it will come up in more than one of your medical school interviews. Though this type of questions fills most medical-students-to-be with dread, they can be an easy area to show off a greater awareness of medicine, and, most importantly, that you are more than just a book-smart fact-learner.

Most ethics questions will begin with a hypothetical scenario and you will be asked ‘your opinion’ regarding it (sometimes posed as “what true your thoughts on this”, or do “you agree with this”). A key pitfall to avoid is the temptation to give your opinion straightaway. Best case scenario they will press you for an opposing view, so you might as well beat them to the punch, and, worst case scenario, you will back yourself into a corner and come off as narrow-minded. Therefore, with any medical ethics question I would advise taking a tripartite approach (three parted). Firstly, present the viewpoint that agrees with, or is in favour of, the proposed situation. You don’t have to go into too much detail (especially if you don’t agree with it and can’t think of much to say), just show you have considered this viewpoint. Secondly, provide the opposing viewpoint – the one that disagrees with the proposed situation. Then, thirdly, present your own opinion, with the justifications as to how you came to your conclusion. An example structure of this would read as follows…

“Some people would agree with this viewpoint, arguing that……However other may oppose this, arguing……In my opinion……because……”

Your arguments do not have to be incredibly detailed. The aim of this approach is to show that you have viewed an argument from all sides, weighed up the options, and come to your own logical conclusion, not that you are an expert in medical ethics. Be prepared to defend your opinion, the interviewer/s may provide counterarguments to push you and see how well you have thought about the situation in question.

However, this approach is reliant on your ability to formulate viewpoints, something people with limited ethics experience may struggle with. Fortunately, Philosophers Beauchamp and Childress identified four moral principles that provide a structured means of analysing any moral situation. These four principles are: Autonomy (freedom to choose), Beneficience (do good), Justice (fairness), and Non-malefience (do no harm). These provide a great means of approaching any ethical question if you cannot think of anything to say. Just run through these four pillars, applying each to the situation at hand and choosing relevant ideas for your arguments.

Finally, one caveat you may be able to throw in is the medicolegal perspective. You won’t be expected to know this at the pre-medical school stage, but if it’s something you’ve come across at work experience or in everyday life, it can give a fourth part to your approach.
Hopefully this quick guide gives you a more structure means of approaching the daunting medical ethics questions. Best of luck everyone!

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