Medical ethics

Medical ethics: definition, principles, examples, questions, issues. Introduction . More recently, most countries have enacted national medical ethics codes, usually written by the medical leadership in a society. 

Medical ethics: definition, principles, examples, questions, issues
Medical ethics: definition, principles, examples, questions, issues

These codes provide guidance on ethical issues and ethically sensitive situations within medicine and can be used as a guide for professional conduct. These codes vary widely in the rules that are enforced but most require doctors to follow their code of ethics, which usually include rules on confidentiality and dealing with patients’ personal information, e.g., medical records.

The concepts of medical ethics in general medicine have changed over time, and the field of medical ethics has undergone several distinctive phases with different conceptions of what is ethical and what is not. This blog will provide an outline of the meaning of medical ethics, largely depending on its definition by various authors.


Medical ethics is the branch of moral philosophy that studies the fundamental ethical principles which medical professionals and other health care providers ought to follow. Medical ethics includes topics such as informed consent, euthanasia, physicians’ obligations to patients, confidentiality and privilege, research involving human subjects, abortion, organ transplantation and allocation of scarce resources among competing individuals.

The definition of medical ethics has been especially confounding to philosophers and scientists. Some have seen the field as one that relies on non-intuitive concepts (see for example, physician-assisted suicide) or as a subfield of moral philosophy.

Others have argued that the core of medical ethics is to be found in certain values such as autonomy, justice and beneficence while others have described the field as one which is exclusively concerned with what society may perceive as “advice” – i.e. the difference between the practice of medicine and the actual facts about a person’s life.

Despite these debates, medical ethics has continued to play a significant role in medicine and society, particularly since the mid-18th century with the advent of highly regulated medical ethics by government bodies.

The term medical ethics first appeared in the Hippocratic writings, most notably in the “Hippocratic Oath”. The original oath has been modified several times. However, it is still administered to medical graduates worldwide upon graduation from medical school. It has been argued that it may be unethical to administer such an oath to doctors who are not yet physicians because they are neither licensed nor trained as healthcare professionals.

The definition of medical ethics can be placed in terms of a doctor’s duties. This is not necessarily the same as ethical principles, and as such, “medical ethics” need not concern itself with social justice or other moral issues often defined as intrinsic to ethical principles. In this context, medical ethics is essentially synonymous with professional ethics and refers to the norms of behaviour that are expected from physicians.


The principles of medical ethics are a rather vague subject, as medical ethics are not a concrete set of rules that can be applied to every situation. There are a number of moral principles which can be used to determine what is ethical and what is unethical, but not everyone agrees with them. This shows that the ethical situation cannot always be adequately described by any set of rules, as this would make it easy for people to misuse the legal system or trick others into doing something they should not do.

The Hippocratic oath is the most common set of rules that medical doctors undertake to follow. The main points are that they will not do anything which will harm their patients, and they will uphold the dignity of patients and treat them with respect. Other important points include that physicians should be honest with their patients, as well as taking care with how to use drugs, chemicals, or surgery.

The members of the medical profession take this oath so they can be held morally accountable for any unethical behaviour. This rule sets an example for others to follow, but the rules are not always followed. 

Another medical principle is that physicians should respect the wishes of their patients. This is similar to the principle that a patient has a right to privacy, but there are some situations where this does not come into play; for example, if there is evidence of abuse on a young child. The physician has to make a decision about whether or not to ignore their patients’ wishes in order to protect them from harm.

Another issue of medical ethics is confidentiality. This is one of the hardest issues to deal with in medical ethics as it is often in direct conflict with the duty to do well. Confidentiality can be broken if it would help someone else protect their rights or prevent serious harm to others. Breaking confidentiality may be necessary if a doctor knows that there has been a failure to protect children from neglect, abuse or other dangers.


A common example of medical ethics is the Hippocratic Oath. This ancient oath was written as an ethical treatise for physicians in the 5th century BC. The Hippocratic Oath distinguishes between what is considered good or bad in medicine and establishes guidelines for physicians. It stipulates that physicians should not harm a patient, should assist those in need, and should not be a source of profit or gain through practice. The guidelines established by the Hippocratic Oath are still used today to establish an ethical framework for medical practice and decision-making.

Another example of medical ethics is the code of conduct given by the American Medical Association. This code of conduct is available for all licensed physicians to follow and includes rules about how a physician must interact with their patients, other physicians, and others in their professional environment.

Another example is the American College of Emergency Physicians’ Ethics Code. It was produced as an aid to members of an organisation in dealing with ethical issues that they may encounter while practising emergency medicine.


Is it always ethical to have an abortion?

Ethical arguments for and against abortion are often organized around the relative value of two human lives. It is also not hard to find that moral arguments in favor of abortion center on the rights and interests of the pregnant woman. Supporters argue that a woman’s right over her own body must take precedence; according to some, childbearing would be too costly for a woman’s physical or mental health, or she may not want children for other reasons.

Is it okay to disclose patients medical information when necessary?

Patients have the right to privacy and confidentiality, which is usually preserved by the physician or pharmacist who has the information. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If your state requires reporting of certain diseases or communicable illnesses, for example, then you must disclose this information. Physicians must also report suspected child abuse to authorities.


One of the main issues of medical ethics is the use of power. The ethical use of power is an extremely important part of the practice of medicine. If a physician, nurse or other health care provider has the possibility to influence a patient’s decision making in one direction or another, they need to be careful not to exercise their powers too much.

Power may be used inappropriately when it makes decisions for the patient that they would make themselves if they were better able to do so, helps them do something that they would not choose to do or makes decisions that are against their best interests.

Another issue is the duty that doctors have towards society. Doctors have a duty to patients, to other people, and to society in general. They must have a regard for the opinions of others and be aware of the consequences of their actions.

They should respect the rights of patients, other people and society. The practice of medicine is all about doing good – not just for the client at hand but for all humankind. This means that when a doctor treats one patient well, they are working to make sure that every person gets proper care.

Another issue of medical ethics is autonomy. Autonomy is the state of being able to make decisions without outside influence. It involves making decisions based on the best interests of the individual and not being guided by others.

The way that doctors treat their patients is a good example as they often make decisions that will benefit them as well as their patients. However, doctors have a duty to be objective in their practice, and not allow personal feelings to influence their decision making.


Medical ethics are the professional rules which determine what a medical doctor is allowed to do. This can come into play when a patient has requested some form of treatment, and the doctor needs to decide whether or not they will give it.

Such a decision may be made on the basis of how likely or successful this course of treatment is, with the risks and benefits for the patient in mind, as well as any other ethical considerations.

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External resource: Wikipedia

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