The Ethics of Advocacy for Undocumented Patients

Nancy Berlinger and Rajeev Raghavan, “The Ethics of Advocacy for Undocumented Patients,” Hastings Center Report 43, no. 1 (2013): 14–17. DOI: 10.1.002/hast.126

Abstract: Approximately 11.2 million undocumented immigrants have settled in the United States. Providing health care to these residents is an everyday concern for the clinicians and health care organizations who serve them. Uncertain how to proceed in the face of severe financial constraints, clinicians may improvise remedies–a strategy that allows our society to avoid confronting the clinical and organizational implications of public policy gaps. There is no simple solution-no quick fix-that will work across organizations (in particular, hospitals with emergency departments) in states with different concentrations of undocumented immigrants, varying public and private resources for safety-net health care, and differing approaches to law and policy concerning the rights of immigrants. However, every hospital can help its clinicians by addressing access to health care for undocumented immigrants as an ethical issue. We offer some recommendations for doing this in a structured, fair, and transparent way. We also describe the problems that may result when clinicians are forced to grapple with this issue on their own.