Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Is This a Spider Bite?

An Ethics Case About Managing MRSA

This scenario illustrates the evolution of a MRSA outbreak in a school athletic setting. There are three stages to the case. Each stage raises a set of ethical questions, which you can think through before moving on to the next stage. You can also click through to commentary on the stage by physicians, trainers, and coaches.

Stage 1.) Prevention
 
By Jack Penner

Mark Phillips, head coach of the Women's Basketball team at Waynesville University, is visiting his fitness club one day when he sees fliers posted around the locker room alerting members of a recent case of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the club's facilities. The fliers describe MRSA as a virulent skin infection, and the accompanying photos bring the point home, explaining how MRSA can be passed from one person to another by skin-to-skin or skin-equipment contact. The gym assures members that a thorough disinfection and prevention plan will be implemented to prevent this from happening again.

Alerted to the danger and prevalence of MRSA in athletic facilities, Phillips brings the issue up with his athletic director, Dan Morgan. Morgan assures the coach that MRSA is not a problem at the university. "First of all," he says, "women don't get MRSA. They're too clean. Besides, in my 25 years at Waynesville, we've never had a case with either the men's or the women's teams. This kind of thing only happens in gyms where they don't observe the basic rules of hygiene. "

Phillips is skeptical. His fitness club has always seemed pretty clean to him. He worries that it's wrong to ignore the potential problem, but he figures that Morgan has a lot more experience and may know something he doesn't. Besides, Phillips realizes he won't win any points by disagreeing with the athletic director, so he lets the matter drop.

Questions:
  1. Is the athletic staff responsible for being informed about any potential health problems for athletes?
  2. Is the athletic director justified in assuring the coach that MRSA is not an issue in their facilities? Is MRSA ever "not an issue"?
  3. Should Phillips press the issue with Morgan or go over the athletic director's head?

What do the experts say?

Go to Stage 2.) A Single Case

Jack Penner, a sophomore public health major at Santa Clara University, is the 2010 Denise and John York/49ers Foundation Fellow in Sports Ethics.

December 2010

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