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Moral experience and ethical challenges in an emergency department in Pakistan: emergency physicians’ perspectives
  1. Waleed Zafar
  1. Correspondence to Dr Waleed Zafar, Department of Emergency Medicine, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, P.O. Box 3500, Karachi 74800, Pakistan; waleed.zafar{at}


Introduction Emergency departments (ED) are often stressful environments posing unique ethical challenges—issues that primarily raise moral rather than clinical concerns—in patient care. Despite this, there are very few reports of what emergency physicians find ethically challenging in their everyday work. Emergency medicine (EM) is a relatively young but rapidly growing specialty that is gaining acceptance worldwide. The aim of this study was to explore the perspectives of EM residents and physicians regarding the common ethical challenges they face during patient care in one of only two academic EM departments in Pakistan. These challenges could then be addressed in residents’ training and departmental practice guidelines.

Methods A qualitative research design was employed and in-depth interviews were conducted with ED physicians. Participants were encouraged to think of specific examples from their work, to highlight the particular ethical concerns raised and to describe in detail the process by which those concerns were addressed or left unresolved. Transcripts were analysed using grounded theory methods.

Results Thirteen participants were interviewed and they described four key challenges: how to provide highest quality care with limited resources; how to be truthful to patients; what to do when it is not possible to provide or continue treatment to patients; and when (and when not) to offer life-sustaining treatments. Participants’ accounts provided important insights into how physicians tried to resolve these challenges in the ‘local moral world’ of an ED in Pakistan.

Conclusions The study highlights the need for developing systematic and contextually appropriate mechanisms for resolving common ethical challenges in the EDs and for training residents in moral problem solving.

  • ethics
  • emergency department
  • education, teaching

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