Medical Ethics

The Fifth Chair

Bishop T.D. Jakes joins The Doctors in the fifth chair to weigh in on the role of faith, religion and prayer in medicine. The Bishop has authored many bestselling books, including Before You Do: Making Great Decisions That You Won’t Regret. He explains that his latest book is intended to teach people how to make positive decisions. He says that often-times people react off of impulse and instinct and end up regretting their decisions. “All meaningful change starts with you,” he says.

Religion and Medicine

Faith healing, which is often accompanied by the refusal of medical care due to religious beliefs, has occupied a pocket of the society for eons. The concept becomes complicated when lives -- especially of those of children -- are compromised or lost due to a lack of medical attention.

Dr. Ordon notes, “It’s the difference between freedom of religion and protecting the right of a child. We as physicians obviously are going to say that the health comes first, but you can’t deny the religious beliefs. But it’s an issue that probably won’t get settled until it goes to the courts.”     

Dr. Jim adds, “It’s so frustrating because it’s kind of like watching a kitchen fire turn into a house fire while you’re holding a fire extinguisher, but not able to do anything about it.”

Bishop Jakes notes that faith and physicians don’t have to be at odds with one another. He recognizes that God heals and people are often fortified by prayer, but when an individual is denied the opportunity to get help, that’s when it becomes counterproductive. He comments, “You want to be taught, you want to be instructed, you want to experience your faith, but you don’t want to be incarcerated by it.” He adds that statistics support that people who have a strong sense of faith tend to heal more rapidly.

African-American Health

African-Americans tend to have a higher risk and rate of diseases such as diabetes, HIV and AIDS, partly due to a distrust in the institution of Western medicine. Many African-Americans are reluctant to seek medical care, largely due to past historical events. Bishop Jakes refers to the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment conducted from 1932 to 1972, where doctors duped African-American patients and purposefully injected them with an infectious disease. It is considered one of the most egregious abuses of medicine in American history.   

Bishop Jakes encourages doctors to be sensitive to events of the past and stresses the importance of bridging the gap to advance health care for African-Americans.

A Heart-Wrenching Ethical Medical Dilemma

Trina and Byron’s family was torn apart when their youngest child, Hannah, died from sickle-cell anemia, a hereditary blood disorder. Terrified that she might lose her two surviving sons who were also diagnosed with disorder, Trina is convinced that the only way to protect them is with a stem cell transplant. The procedure requires the cord blood of a genetically compatible, unaffected individual: ideally, a sibling.

The ethical dilemma is threefold: In order for the boys to have the stem cell transplant, Trina must have another child, which cannot carry the sickle cell gene. In order to verify that an embryo would not carry the sickle-cell trait, excessive genetic procedures are required; embryos harvested that have sickle-cell anemia would be discarded. Trina would then have to undergo in-vitro fertilization (IVF) because she had a tubal ligation after Hannah was born. 

Embryologist Dr. David Hill explains how the embryos are selected and tested. “At day three, we remove one cell to test it -- in this particular situation -- for sickle-cell anemia and also if it will be a match for the other two children.”

T.D. Jakes interjects, “I worry about the moral dilemma of these embryos that are being tossed in the process of picking the ones that work for you. I worry about the kind of message that sends when we start picking and choosing what we do and do not want and not regarding those as lives and children as well.”

The dilemma has torn the couple apart. “We’re at a stand-still right now,” Byron admits. “I’m afraid. I’ve lost my daughter; I don’t want to lose my wife.”

Trina holds fast to her decision that this treatment is the best way to keep the family together and protect their children. Byron remains unsure and at a crossroads. The Bishop emphasizes that the couple can’t replace one life with another and is concerned that perhaps they haven’t fully engaged in their grief process. He suggests that they make sure they have taken the time to heal from their loss before making decisions of this magnitude.

Sickle-Cell Anemia Explained

Sickle-cell anemia is a blood disorder in which red blood cells are irregularly shaped (like a sickle) and cause clumping in the blood vessels. The clumping causes damage and infection to organs, major complications and even death. Approximately two million Americans carry the sickle-cell trait, which is most prevalent in African-Americans.

Will a Vasectomy Change My Sex Life?

Jeff in Charleston, West Virginia, writes that he and his wife have five wonderful children and are looking for a more permanent form of birth control. His wife suggested a vasectomy, but Jeff is concerned that the procedure might compromise his pleasure during intercourse. The Doctors assure him that a vasectomy doesn’t affect libido, sensation or sexual function. Dr. Jim adds, “There’s no difference!”

Cuppy Cake Sam

Nine-year-old Sam skyrocketed to Internet fame for his adorable rendition of the “cuppy cake song.” But what started as a lighthearted skit that his sister posted for fun soon became a source of cruelty and pain. Mean-spirited comments poured in taunting the boy that he was obscenely obese. When Sam read the comments, he was heartbroken. What the vicious critics failed to realize is that Sam suffers from a rare and debilitating kidney disease called IGM nephropathy.

The disease causes Sam’s immune system to attack his kidneys, so to combat it, he has been on steroids for the last six years. One of the most common side-effects of steroids is a moon-shaped face, weight gain and stunted growth.  

Sam and his mother, Angie, turn to Dr. Jim for help, who suggests there might be some alternative treatments for Sam that would allow him to decrease or cease the amount of steroids he’s consuming. 

When asked what Sam would like to say to his critics, he replies, “Don’t judge people before you get to know them. Because if you judge them before you get to know them, you’ll feel really bad later.”