Ethics Consult: ‘I Want a White Surgeon’

Welcome to Ethics Consult — an opportunity to discuss, debate (respectfully), and learn together. We select an ethical dilemma from a true patient care case. You vote on your decision in the case and, next week, we’ll reveal how you all made the call. Bioethicist Jacob M. Appel, MD, JD, will also weigh in with an ethical framework to help you learn and prepare.

The following case is adapted from Appel’s 2019 book, Who Says You’re Dead? Medical & Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned.

John is admitted to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Without surgery, he runs a high risk of a burst appendix and death. John, who is a well-known activist in the white supremacy movement, will agree to the surgery on the condition that only Caucasian surgeons operate on him. John says that nonwhite hospital staff, such as nursing assistants, may be present in the room, but they may not touch his body. He states that he would rather die than violate his convictions. To accommodate his demands, the hospital would need to make staffing changes.


Jacob M. Appel, MD, JD, is director of ethics education in psychiatry and a member of the institutional review board at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He holds an MD from Columbia University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a bioethics MA from Albany Medical College.

And check out some of our past Ethics Consult cases:

Skirt U.S. Rules and Conduct Research in Africa?


Force Unvaxxed to Use Telehealth?

Spill Patient’s Medical Secrets to SEC?

Last Updated September 03, 2021


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