Medical Ethics (2023)

You need to understand medical ethics and be ready to answer ethics questions or tackle MMI stations that focus on this topic. This guide outlines the four pillars of medical ethics and introduces three ethical frameworks that you should know about.

Ethics in Medicine

Medical ethics describes the moral principles by which a Doctor must conduct themselves. You need to understand the concept of medical ethics when you’re applying for Medical School, but you aren’t expected to be an expert.

It’s worth being aware that medical ethics is a changing ideal. Something that might have been considered ethical 30 years ago may not be today – and what we think is ethical right now may change in the future.

Why Is Medical Ethics Important?

Medical professionals frequently find themselves facing moral questions and ethical dilemmas in their line of work. Medical ethics provide a framework to help them make judgement calls which are morally sound and right for the patient in question.

It’s essential for aspiring Doctors to have a good moral compass and a solid grasp of medical ethics so they can consistently do what is best for their patients.

Four Pillars of Medical Ethics

The four pillars of medical ethics are:

  1. Beneficence (doing good)
  2. Non-maleficence (to do no harm)
  3. Autonomy (giving the patient the freedom to choose freely, where they are able)
  4. Justice (ensuring fairness)

These four principles represent a framework for analysing the best action to take in a given situation. To use this approach, you must consider whether your actions are in compliance with each of the four pillars.

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Example Ethical Dilemma

A good example of an ethical dilemma relating to Medicine is that of surgery.

Imagine that a patient has appendicitis and the surgeons believe that surgery is necessary. Technically, making an incision into the patient’s skin is causing “harm” to the patient; however, this is done with good intent as removing the inflamed appendix eliminates the risk of progression to rupture and peritonitis.

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Surgery would be offered to the patient based on their clinical need and they will have the right to make an informed decision. The four principles would, therefore, support performing this surgery.

Medical Ethics Concept: Consequentialism

Consequentialism is an ethical ideology that states the morality of an action is dependent purely on its consequences. A simpler way to phrase this would be that the “ends justify the means”. If your action has an overall benefit, then it does not matter about the action itself.

Example: Your patient has a terminal illness and is not likely to survive the operation she is about to undertake. Just as she is about to be anaesthetised, she asks you: “Doctor, will I be okay?” A consequentialist ideology supports that lying in this circumstance is acceptable, even though lying itself is not a moral action.

Medical Ethics Concept: Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism says the best action is that one that brings about the best increase in utility (benefit). Utility is generally considered on a broad scale, often taking into consideration wider society and not just the patient in question. It’s a form of consequentialism.

Example: You have a sum of money to either fund a very expensive treatment for one patient with a rare disease or five patients with a very common and easy-to-treat disease. Utilitarian ethics dictates that treating the five patients is morally superior as a greater overall benefit is achieved.

Medical Ethics Concept: Deontology

Deontology is also known as “duty-based ethics”. This ideology states that the correct course of action is dependent on what your duties and obligations are. It means that the morality of an action is based on whether you followed the rules, rather than what the consequence of following them was.

This is in direct contrast with consequentialism.

Example: If your terminally ill patient asks if they’ll be ok after a surgery they’re unlikely to survive, a deontological approach would suggest you don’t lie to comfort them. That’s because according to this concept, lying isn’t morally acceptable because it’s our obligation not to lie – no matter the consequences.

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Generally speaking, consequentialism may be the most relevant guide to thinking about the broad aims of healthcare – and deontology-based guidance is the one most commonly seen in Medicine.

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How To Develop Medical Ethics Knowledge

One of the best ways to develop your understanding of medical ethics is to practice analysing situations using ethical frameworks and ideologies. You can do this on your own, with a teacher, or with a fellow Medical School applicant who could give you their perspective and share ideas. Try to compare the outcomes given by different frameworks and consider the implications of this.

Make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest health news – and see how these ethical frameworks apply to what’s currently in the news.

Medical Ethics Examples

At Medical School interviews, medical ethics is a big part of the selection process. It’s highly likely that you’ll be asked ethics questions or face an MMI station designed to test your understanding of these concepts.

Some key medical ethics examples that you should be aware of for your interview are:

When you answer ethics questions, you don’t have to list each of the four principles of ethics and outline these concepts – instead, pick a couple that are really relevant to show the interviewer that you’re aware of medical ethics in general.

And remember – you may not be expected to make decisions yet. The key thing to do in your interview is to show you understand the issues by discussing how the key ethical principles relate to the question. If the interviewer pushes you for an opinion, make sure you can back up what you choose with some ethical reasoning.


What are the 4 medical ethics? ›

Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice constitute the 4 principles of ethics.

What are the 7 principles of medical ethics? ›

WHAT ARE THE 7 MAIN ETHICAL PRINCIPLES IN NURSING AND WHY THEY ARE IMPORTANT? There are seven primary ethical principles of nursing: accountability, justice, nonmaleficence, autonomy, beneficence, fidelity, and veracity.

What are the 5 medical ethics? ›

Five Major Moral Principles in Health Care:

What are the ethics of medical? ›

Four Pillars of Medical Ethics

Beneficence (doing good) Non-maleficence (to do no harm) Autonomy (giving the patient the freedom to choose freely, where they are able) Justice (ensuring fairness)

What are the 3 types of ethics? ›

Ethics is traditionally subdivided into normative ethics, metaethics, and applied ethics.

What are the 10 rights of a patient? ›

Patients Rights
  • Right to Appropriate Medical Care and Humane Treatment. ...
  • Right to Informed Consent. ...
  • Right to Privacy and Confidentiality. ...
  • Right to Information. ...
  • The Right to Choose Health Care Provider and Facility. ...
  • Right to Self-Determination. ...
  • Right to Religious Belief. ...
  • Right to Medical Records.
11 Nov 2022

What are the 10 codes of ethics? ›

Ethics Statement Examples for Associations
  • “Contribute to society and to human well-being, acknowledging that all people are stakeholders in computing.
  • Avoid harm.
  • Be honest and trustworthy.
  • Be fair and take action not to discriminate.
  • Honor confidentiality.
  • Perform work only in areas of competence”
17 Sept 2021

What are the 12 ethics? ›

Generally, there are about 12 ethical principles: honesty, fairness, leadership, integrity, compassion, respect, responsibility, loyalty, law-abiding, transparency, and environmental concerns.

What are the 6 code of ethics? ›

The following broad ethical principles are based on social work's core values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.

What was the 1st code of medical ethics? ›

The first code of conduct for research including medical ethics was the Nuremberg Code.

Why is medical ethics important? ›

It provides privacy, confidentiality and truthfulness in the doctor-patient relationship [19]. Medical ethics promotes health, wellbeing, respect decision making, dignity, justice and accountability in the medical profession [17, 19].

What are basic ethics? ›

The expression "basic ethical principles" refers to those general judgments that serve as a justification for particular ethical prescriptions and evaluations of human actions.

What are the 3 golden rules of ethics? ›

Do good to others as you would like good to be done to you. Regard bad for yourself whatever you regard bad for others. Accept that (treatment) from others which you would like others to accept from you... Do not say to others what you do not like to be said to you.

What are the 2 types of ethics? ›

Theoretical and Applied Ethics

There are two main types of ethical inquiry: Theoretical ethics and applied ethics.

What are the six basic patient rights? ›

Department of Family Relations
  • Identify the right patient. ...
  • Verify the right medication. ...
  • Verify the indication for use. ...
  • Calculate the right dose. ...
  • Make sure it's the right time. ...
  • Check the right route.

What are the seven 7 patient rights? ›

The rights included in the Charter relates to access, safety, respect, communication, participation, privacy and comment.

What are basic patient rights? ›

A patient has the right to respectful care given by competent workers. A patient has the right to know the names and the jobs of his or her caregivers. A patient has the right to privacy with respect to his or her medical condition. A patient's care and treatment will be discussed only with those who need to know.

What are the 8 principles of ethics? ›

This analysis focuses on whether and how the statements in these eight codes specify core moral norms (Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence, and Justice), core behavioral norms (Veracity, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Fidelity), and other norms that are empirically derived from the code statements.

What are the 5 fundamentals of principles of ethics? ›

It is divided into three sections, and is underpinned by the five fundamental principles of Integrity, Objectivity, Professional competence and due care, Confidentiality, and Professional behaviour.

Who is the father of medical ethics? ›

"The Father of Medicine", as Antiquity called Hippocrates has left rich medical and ethical heritage for us.

Who invented medical ethics? ›

The expression “medical ethics” was not coined until 1803, when Thomas Percival (1740–1804), a physician from Manchester, England, introduced it in his eponymous book Medical Ethics (Percival 1803b) as a description of the professional duties of physicians and surgeons to their patients, to their fellow practitioners, ...

What is the most important medical ethical principle? ›

Beneficence and non-maleficence

Thus the traditional Hippocratic moral obligation of medicine is to provide net medical benefit to patients with minimal harm - that is, beneficence with non-maleficence.

When did medical ethics begin? ›

The Code of Medical Ethics (Code) of the American Medical Association (AMA) is rooted in an understanding of the goals of medicine as a profession, which dates back to the 5th century BCE and the Greek physician Hippocrates, to relieve suffering and promote well-being in a relationship of fidelity with the patient.

What are the 4 main ethical principles in nursing? ›

Nurses are advocates for patients and must find a balance while delivering patient care. There are four main principles of ethics: autonomy, beneficence, justice, and non-maleficence. Each patient has the right to make their own decisions based on their own beliefs and values. [4].

What are the 4 domains of good medical practice? ›

  • About this guidance. ...
  • Professionalism in action. ...
  • Domain 1: Knowledge, skills and performance. ...
  • Domain 2: Safety and quality. ...
  • Domain 3: Communication, partnership and teamwork. ...
  • Show respect for patients. ...
  • Domain 4: Maintaining trust. ...
  • Endnotes.
25 Mar 2013

Which of the four principles of medical ethics is most important? ›

Of the four principles of health care ethics, non-maleficence is the one that is generally the one most commonly prioritized. Non-maleficence means that you as a health care professional must do no harm.

What are the 4 P's in the P4 approach to medicine? ›

The vision of medicine that is predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory ('P4') has long been advocated by Leroy Hood and other pioneers of systems medicine [1–3]. As recently as 10 years ago, these pioneers could accurately have been described as voices in the wilderness.

What are the 8 guiding principles of healthcare ethics? ›

The final Washington e-Health Code of Ethics sets forth guiding principles under eight main headings: candor; honesty; quality; informed consent; privacy; professionalism in online health care; responsible partnering; and accountability.

What are the 10 nursing ethical values? ›

The search yielded 10 nursing ethical values: Human dignity, privacy, justice, autonomy in decision making, precision and accuracy in caring, commitment, human relationship, sympathy, honesty, and individual and professional competency.

What are the six types of medical practices? ›

Here are some of the most commonly available types of medical practice settings.
  • Solo Practice. ...
  • Group Practices. ...
  • Employed Physician Practices. ...
  • Direct Primary Care. ...
  • Independent Contractor. ...
  • Locum Tenens.

What are the 7 domains of health? ›

There are seven domains in the National Core Standards namely:
  • Patients Rights. ...
  • Patient Safety. ...
  • Clinical Support. ...
  • Public Health. ...
  • Leadership and Governance. ...
  • Operational Management. ...
  • Facilities and Infrastructure. ...
  • Amalungelo Eziguli.
9 Dec 2010

What are the 5 health domains? ›

There are five main aspects of personal health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual.

What are the ABC's of healthcare ethics? ›

Overview. Health care ethics (a.k.a “clinical ethics” or "medical ethics") is the application of the core principles of bioethics (autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice) to medical and health care decisions.

What are the 4 C's in health? ›

Background: The four primary care (PC) core functions (the '4Cs', ie, first contact, comprehensiveness, coordination and continuity) are essential for good quality primary healthcare and their achievement leads to lower costs, less inequality and better population health.

What are NHS values? ›

What are the NHS Values?
  • Working together for patients.
  • Respect and dignity.
  • Commitment to quality of care.
  • Compassion.
  • Improving lives.
  • Everyone counts.

What is the 4 Step patient education process? ›

The guidelines are based on the four components of the patient education process: assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation (APIE) (Bastable, 2017). Each component is essential for effective patient education.


1. The 4 Pillars Of Medical Ethics
2. How To Tackle ANY Medical Ethics Scenario
3. Medical Ethics and History - Course Trailer
(Harvard University)
4. Ethics matters in health
(World Health Organization (WHO))
5. Medical Ethics 2 - The Four Principles - Prima Facie Autonomy, Beneficence, NonMaleficence & Justice
(JHP Medical UK)
6. Medical Ethics
(Psychiatry Lectures)
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