Ethics in the Thunderbird Hospital


The healthcare industry is an example of compliance with ethical standards, which are sometimes criticized by non-professionals and go against their thoughts. Being ethical and wise at the same time might not always be possible as there is constantly someone who will suffer from healthcare workers’ decisions (Tannsjo, 1998). Doctors usually face problems of staying ethical, and it is crucial to be able to cope with inner feelings and the pressure of negativity from those who do not accept final decisions. Moreover, ethical actions are often on the side of the law and acting according to the law is one of the main tasks of a healthcare worker. Consequently, the purpose of the research is to examine how ethical dilemmas are solved in a particular case study. Furthermore, find out how final conclusions are done accordingly to the situation of a patient described in the paper, his expectations, and the medical team’s discussion results.

Background on Patient’s Health

According to the example given in a case study, a 25-year-old patient of the Thunderbird Hospital, Michael James, is in a critical situation that may cost his life. Some parts of his body are covered with severe burns, which gives doctors a reason to suggest that this patient has skin cancer. The burnt parts of the skin have changed, leading to profuse hair loss without subsequent restoration. The patient had about zero white blood cells, and his skin lesions could not heal for a long time. Internal organs were damaged, and there was a change in the DNA structure which gives fewer chances of survival. Displacement of some parts of the body does not provide free movements to the patient, and he feeds through the tube. Without any medical intervention, Michael James will die in 30 days. Doctors are able to start treatment to prolong the life of a seriously injured patient, but such factors as changes in DNA and irreparable skin do not give a chance for a long life without pain and suffering. Parents are requesting to start treatment and try to save their son’s life, but Michael James wishes to have a procedure of euthanasia to stop suffering from unbearable pains. This case study is an example of a difficult ethical decision that should be made by healthcare workers when all factors must be weighted soberly. The final decision must take into account the wishes of each party involved in this case.

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Ethical Dilemma

The ethical Dilemma raised in the case study is Utilitarianism vs. Hedonism which are relatively similar but still might affect the scenario in a different way. According to Tannsjo (1998), Hedonism is a physical pleasure that is the only good thing for oneself, when Utilitarianism is the action that produces most utility to pleasure the greatest number of people. Ethics play a huge role in medicine as being in a medical institution, patients hope for the help of doctors and rely on everything they say (Peter, 2018). Ethics is expressed in different ways in relation to the case study. On the one hand, Utilitarianism will give parents hope for the salvation of their son, and doctors will fulfill their medical duty and fight for life till the end. On the other hand, if doctors stick to Hedonism ethics, the patient’s request for euthanasia will only help him stop suffering. Both choices are ethically right, but each of them carries positive and negative sides. Peter (2018) stated medical workers are trained to correctly present their decisions to patients and convince them how to act in critical situations. Consequently, decision-making in the healthcare industry is a loose concept that might be ethical for one group of people but unethical for another. A tough science of becoming as ethical as possible might take many years of education.

Real-life Examples

First Case

Two real-life examples of dealing with dilemma are described by Savulescu et al (2020) during difficult COVID-19 times. A 68-year-old doctor Alessandro curing patients with COVID-19, suddenly catches the same virus and develops respiratory failure. Alessandro’s main problem is that he has chronic obstructive airways disease. There is also a 52-year-old businessman Jason who caught the COVID-19 virus while having a business trip, and he is developing the same respiratory failure as Alessandro. However, Jason is feeling good and does not have any chronic diseases. Both of them need a ventilator, but there is only one remaining in the hospital, and this is the point when ethical solutions occur. Comparing such factors as patients’ places of work, the degree of illness, statement of chronic diseases, and predicted time of treatment from COVID-19, each of them has the same right to get mechanical ventilation and be successfully cured. When it comes to the dilemma of saving more people or curing medical staff, no matter how complex their situations are, it all depends on doctors’ ethical decisions.

Second Case

One more example of an ethical dilemma given by Savulescu et al (2020) is lockdown rules to reduce the number of death cases from 500 000 to 20 000 in the UK. When lockdowns across the world help people stop the spread of COVID-19, it also causes some economic problems such as a massive number of job losses.Consequently, people staying at home might get mental illnesses and breakdowns leading to such health issues as coronary heart disease. Moreover, when many hospitals are becoming red COVID-19 zones, planned operations, which are not related to coronavirus, are delayed, resulting in additional deaths. The main question that healthcare specialists should ethically solve is finding the balance between the regulation of deaths from COVID-19 and deaths from other diseases. Doctors often make sacrifices in their final decisions, but all these sacrifices should be well analyzed and have the least disastrous outcomes.

Course of Action

From the professional point of view, satisfying the wishes of oneself in medicine could be the most applicable ethics. According to Tannsjo (1998), ethics directed to the satisfaction of one person is called Hedonism. In the case study of Thunderbird hospital, after leading deep examinations and discussions, the medical team came to the decisions to respect Michael James’s request to take the euthanasia procedure to stop his suffering from incurable injures. Even though the patient’s request did not match the parents’ wishes, the decision doctors came up with is still ethically correct and cannot be blamed.

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The greatest challenge for healthcare workers is to stay ethical in their solutions, and huge attention should be paid to ethical education. Right ethical decisions are produced when personal feelings are turned off, and only medical experience drive to the conclusion. Criticism always exists, and it is difficult to avoid in the healthcare industry.


Peter, E. (2018). Overview and Summary: Ethics in Healthcare: Nurses Respond. The Journal of Issues in Nursing, 23(1). DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol23No01ManOS

Savulescu J., Persson I., Wilkinson D. (2020). Utilitarianism and the pandemic. Bioethics, 34(6), pp. 620-632.

Tannsjo, T. (1998). Hedonistic Utilitarianism. Edinburg University Press.

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