Bioethics Blogs

Compassion Across Borders: International Disparities in the Vocation of Healthcare Providers

The following essay was the first-prize winner of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education’s 2014 Dr. Kuo York and M. Noelle Chynn Undergraduate Prize in Ethics, an essay competition to stimulate self-examination about concepts of ethics and morality encountered personally or as a concerned member of society. The Chynn Prize is funded by the Chynn Family Foundation. 

By: Michael Menconi

Patient names have been changed to ensure confidentiality and protect privacy.

A bed in the hospital in Colombia. Photo by Michael Menconi

A bed in the hospital in Colombia. Photo by Michael Menconi

Healthcare professionals often refer to their careers in medicine as a life purpose—their “calling” is to treat the sick, mend the injured, comfort the vulnerable, and instill courage in those who have lost all hope. Doctors have a moral, ethical, and professional obligation—or perhaps duty—to do no harm and perform acts of healing, both of which were fundamental virtues established by the Hippocratic Oath over five centuries ago. For a field with such an extensive, prolific history of emphasizing compassion and care for those in need, it is expected (and often assumed) that healthcare providers treat every patient with a fundamental respect for the human condition, unwavering empathy, and superior levels of social and cultural competency.

The United States is widely considered to possess the highest standard of care—and it would be desirable to assume the level of compassion conveyed by the professionals that work in the health system matches this standard. My clinical experiences with stigmatized drug users in both New York, and abroad in Cali, Colombia, have enabled me to grasp a genuine understanding of what it means to be not only a healthcare provider—but more importantly—an empathetic human who treats others as fellow persons possessing equal moral status, regardless of social, economic, ethnic, or religious contexts.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.