Care under the Influence

Joseph J. Fins, Samantha F. Knowlton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A forty-year-old man is brought to the emergency room by his wife at five in the morning, two hours after he fell down the stairs at home, hitting his head and injuring his arm. He tells the ER physician that he got up to get a drink of water and tripped in the dark. His speech is slurred, and he smells strongly of alcohol. Lab results reveal elevated liver enzymes, and his blood alcohol level is 0.1. His medical history is unremarkable. When asked about his alcohol consumption, he says he usually has one or two drinks a night with dinner but that he drinks more on holidays and special occasions. He admits he had more to drink than usual last night because it had been a stressful day at work, but he is vague about how much he drank. His wife takes the ER physician aside and describes a very different situation. She says that her husband regularly has three or four drinks a night. She always goes to bed before he does and thinks he stays up later so he can continue to drink. She says that he often has no memory of conversations they had the night before and is concerned because he makes work-related calls at night. When asked what he does for a living, she hesitates, and then answers that he is an internist. He does not work at this hospital but works at one of its affiliated clinics. The ER doctor is concerned that his patient is an impaired physician. Yet when the admitting hospitalist, to whom he explains the situation, asks if he really wants to "go there," he shrugs his shoulders. "I suppose," she replies, "you might as well call an ethics consult."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-9
Number of pages2
JournalThe Hastings Center report
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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