Thursday, November 5, 2015

Effective Altruism and the Ethics of Helping Others through Medical Missions

Effective altruism has been a major concern about the ethics of helping others. The discussion has centered on whether the help we offer has the greatest positive impact to the world. It scrutinizes whether the intent to help others is a valid reason enough to use our resources in certain activity. Such is the ethical questions that needs to be addressed by organizations thinking of maximizing their resources to help others through a medical mission. Here are Six Questions that needs to be answered before you organize a medical mission:

1. Is the medical mission needed in the area?
Many medical missions are conducted in areas that do not match the resources available to the needs in the area. One group once went to a depressed squatters area bringing antibiotics expecting many sick children. They found many to be sick with tuberculosis but do not have the medicines for it. Because medical missions often address acute medical needs, the timing and the location are important considerations for this activities. Another location might benefit the most with what you have to offer.

2. Are the recipients the neediest people who need the service?
This question is related to the first. Medical missions are often limited in their resources. It becomes important then to ask who will receive these limited resources? Do we give these to members of the organizations only? Do we invite our family and friends? Do we cater on a first come, first serve basis? Or do we exclusively limit it to the poorest people who needs the help the most?

3. Is the medical mission the best way to improve the health of the individual and the community at large?
Medical missions are useful when disaster strikes as the health care system is overwhelmed by the situation. Yet, in ordinary times there are existing health services that the government are offering. It might be more effective to help improve the existing health programs and services available in the community to have longer lasting impact in improving people's health and the community as well. It It is better to put your resources to a program that will provide the greatest benefit to most number of people.

4. Is the "medical mission" helping the local health system?
Each locality has an existing health care system. In low-to-middle income countries (LMIC) like the Philippines, it might not be as effective as we want it. But are the medical missions we are conducting helping the system or are we competing against them? Check if there are local health centers and health workers in the area. It will be unfortunate to conduct medical missions without their participation. You might miss creating a bigger and lasting impact.

5. Is the medical mission highly dependent on donations?
Do you conduct the medical missions on a regular basis or only when the resources are available? How will this impact continuity of health care to the people? If the reason why the medical mission was done in the area is because medical services are really needed, what does it mean to provide only once in a "Blue Moon" health services to them or only when resources are available? Limited resources is better placed in programs with the greatest health outcomes for all.

6.  Is the group concern with the health of the people or are they just using it as leverage for their own purpose?
What could be the driving force for the medical mission? Some churches have conditions for the beneficiaries, they offer only medical services only after the beneficiaries have participated in a Bible Study by the group. Politicians leverage it for their election. Groups use it to promote their products. Or do they simply want to help improve the health of the most number of people regardless of nothing to gain in return?

Effective altruism does not question the intent of the people to help others. For many utilitarians like Dr. Singer, they question the impact and effectiveness of the help offered. Effective altruism, thus, puts into proper perspective how medical missions can effectively impact the health of the wider-community. Were the resources used properly? But for virtuous doctors, the question really is, can the medical missions effectively help me become a virtuous doctor? Are the medical missions the best venue in forming in me virtues that will make me an excellent doctor?  For Christian doctors, can these medical missions be the best way for us to achieve Christ-likeness? Will these activities form in me virtuous of magnificence? Do I practice generosity?

For in generosity, I am helping the best way I can to a person who needs me most.