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What Are The Four Basic Concepts of Medical Ethics

As doctors or healthcare professionals, practicing medicine requires a strict commitment to ethics. People’s lives are literally in our hands, and they come to us seeking guidance. We must do our due diligence in keeping them safe and happy.

The key to this is understanding the four basic concepts of medical ethics. These include respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice. Some of these are usually known as “do no harm,” while others require more explanation.

Understanding these is the first step towards practicing medicine the right way. This is important regardless of legal requirements or considerations. Keep reading for a full guide to the importance of these four ethical concepts.

Respect for Autonomy

Respect for autonomy is one of the most important principles of medical ethics. It concerns a person’s ability to make good and informed choices. In simple terms, it obligates those in the field to respect a patient’s decision.

This stands as long as they are capable of or are within the capacity to make decisions. These include, but are not limited to, treatment options, medical care procedures, and privacy concerns. Patient confidentiality also falls into this category.

Many fail to foresee how easily this aspect of autonomy gets violated. Often, it’s also at the root of many lawsuits and proceedings. While respecting a patient’s privacy seems easy enough, it does get quite complicated.

This becomes the case when there are those in the field who aren’t well-informed or trained enough. With the rise in social media and other online apps, “slip-ups” have become a lot more commonplace. Apart from that is the failure to manage and secure sensitive patient data.

Situations like so can turn into HIPAA violations or significant data breaches. Whatever the case and situation are, it’s best to ensure that nothing leads to either of those. Knowing how to maintain patient confidentiality should be a priority.


Stemming from the word maleficence, this principle only means never to do harm or evil. This is in line with the basic morals every person in the medical field should know by heart.

Of course, every procedure and treatment will always have its risks. Despite that, it is within the principle of those in the industry to mitigate them.

Causing harm, pain, and suffering should never be intentional. Even more so for incapacitating a patient and choosing to do acts that result in death. One delicate and vague aspect of nonmaleficence is not causing offense.

“To cause offense” and the definition of such “offense” is akin to drawing a line in the sand. To put things into perspective, language barriers and culture play a huge role in this. The medical industry and field are diverse, and so are the people who work in it and those they cater to.

Everyone involved does their best to give utmost respect to each patient, but causing offenses are inevitable. Being able to be sincere and to show humility is key to health care ethics. They are crucial in maintaining cordial relations between the patient and medical attendants.


There are certain nuances between beneficence and nonmaleficence. Though, by exploring its proper definition, things become clearer. Beneficence in clinical ethics means every action done should always benefit the patient.

This means the patient’s best interests should always be first – at every step of the way. The right treatment offered should always contribute to their welfare. At the same time, this should only be a recommendation.

The greenlight for any medical proceedings should always rely on the patient’s autonomy. Never should it be something forced onto, nor should medical personnel manipulate a patient. Non-conformance to beneficence breaches multiple aspects of the concepts of medical ethics.

The practice of medicine is something always shed in a positive light. That said, there still have been cases of this overstep and violation of beneficence. Many of which have tainted the image of those who dedicate themselves only to the betterment of their patients.

Unfortunately, some of these events have resulted in fatalities, several lawsuits, and settlements. It is unthinkable for those in the medical field to go against this principle, but there are still those who do.


In clinical ethics, justice is, in a sense, defined as fairness. Everyone should have access to fair distribution of health and health care. That said, it still works with and adheres to the laws and rules of governing bodies.

Think of it as no one gets left behind; every patient gets what they need within reason and capability. Therefore, there should be no bias regardless of their wealth, race, status, and sexuality. When viewed under the same light, it’s easy to see why it’s also one of the most neglected.

On another note, the principle of justice in medical ethics has since progressed. It’s the reason why subsidized healthcare is in place. It allows those in society who would not have access to care a chance for treatment.

The same is true for organ recipient lists – it puts those in dire need at the top of the list. Among the four basic concepts of medical ethics, justice might be the one that’s most difficult to obtain. Its better application and improvement also still has a long way to go.

How the wealthy have better access to medical care isn’t a secret. Not many have access to comprehensive health care in today’s society. This jeopardizes the principle of justice in medical ethics. Working towards it and its achievement is something to strive for.

The Four Basic Concepts of Medical Ethics

There is no getting around the fact that the four basic concepts of medical ethics are crucial when practicing medicine. You have legal and moral obligations to do everything you can to keep your patients healthy, happy, and safe. Failing to do this is negligent and downright criminal and should never occur.

Knowing what they are and taking them seriously is the first step. For more information on what’s required to practice medicine, look at our site. We have plenty to offer.

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