Virtual Mentor

2013 Conley Ethics Essay Scenario

Dr. Molleur is a family doctor in a state that accepts federal funding for abstinence-only sex education in its public schools. She believes that abstinence-only sex education is harmful to adolescents and to society because it results in unplanned pregnancies, the spread of STDs, psychological harm to those who don’t conform to the norms of the curriculum, and reversal of decades of progress in the social status of women and gay people.

Dr. Molleur submits a resolution for consideration by her state medical society’s annual meeting entreating the society to adopt a position urging the state’s governor to reject federal funding for abstinence-only education programs and replace them with comprehensive sex ed, which would include abstinence but also cover such topics as correct use of condoms. Her resolution discusses not only what she views as problems with the factual information in the abstinence-only curriculum (for example, the assertion that HIV can get through pores in condoms) but also her objections to the sexual mores promulgated in the abstinence-only curriculum (for example, that non-marital, non-heterosexual sexual activity is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects and that abstaining from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard). “This,” her proposal concludes, “is misinformation, and, as highly educated professionals devoted to promoting the health and welfare of the public, we have a responsibility to combat the teaching of inaccurate and problematic beliefs.”

Getting a cup of coffee before the meeting begins, she runs into her friend Dr. Baxter in line, and asks him, “Did you see the resolution I submitted?”

Dr. Baxter hesitates. Eventually he says, “I did see it. But I’m not sure I’m with you on this. Is it appropriate for a physician group to be making judgments about what constitutes healthy or normal—or moral—sexual behavior? Who are we to prescribe sexual norms for society?”

Instructions for Submission of Essays

Essays should examine whether physicians’ education, training, and standing in society entitles (or, perhaps, obligates) them to speak out as a profession on issues that, while they affect the health of the public, are not directly related to physician training or the care of patients. In this specific case, should physicians take a position on the value-laden topic of sex education? Essay writers’ personal thoughts about the value of abstinence-only sex education are not the topic.

Currently enrolled medical students are eligible to submit essays for consideration. Essays must be 2,000 words or fewer, excluding references. They must be typed and double-spaced, with the author’s name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, and medical school and class on a cover sheet—not on the essay pages; authors will be anonymous to the judges. Essays must be received as one e-mail attachment in Word, using the author’s last name as the filename. All entries must be submitted by 5 pm CDT, September 30, 2013 to Kelly Shaw at kelly.shaw@ama-assn.org.