Barriers to green inhaler prescribing: ethical issues in environmentally sustainable clinical practice

Journal of Medical Ethics 49 (2):92-98 (2023)
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The National Health Service (NHS) was the first healthcare system globally to declare ambitions to become net carbon zero. To achieve this, a shift away from metered-dose inhalers which contain powerful greenhouse gases is necessary. Many patients can use dry powder inhalers which do not contain greenhouse gases and are equally effective at managing respiratory disease. This paper discusses the ethical issues that arise as the NHS attempts to mitigate climate change. Two ethical issues that pose a barrier to moving away from metered-dose inhalers are considered: patients who decline an inhaler with a smaller carbon footprint and increased cost. I argue that while a patient is not morally justified in refusing a more environmentally sustainable inhaler due to the expected harms, a doctor may still prescribe a metered-dose inhaler if they believe that switching without consent might undermine trust or substantially worsen the patient’s health. Turning to cost, I argue that the imperative to combat climate change means the NHS should accept small increased financial costs for lower carbon inhalers, even though this provides no additional direct benefit for the patient. I then go on to consider the implications of the preceding analysis for policy and practice. I argue for a policy that minimises the impact of inhalers on the climate by advocating for a principle of environmental prescribing and explore decision-making in practice. While the arguments here pertain primarily to inhalers, the discussion has broader implications for debates around healthcare’s responsibility to be environmentally sustainable.



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Joshua Parker
University of Manchester

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Famine, affluence, and morality.Peter Singer - 1972 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (3):229-243.
Trust as an affective attitude.Karen Jones - 1996 - Ethics 107 (1):4-25.
How Harmful Are the Average American's Greenhouse Gas Emissions?John Nolt - 2011 - Ethics, Policy and Environment 14 (1):3-10.

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