Medical Ethics

Ethics is all about ideal human conduct and understanding of the moral values in which actions are judged as right or wrong; and persons and institutions are judged as praiseworthy or blameworthy.

All medical decisions involve an ethical component in addition to clinical or scientific component. Major ethical issues have arisen from respect for patients’ rights, financial restraints and new technologies.

Patient’s Rights

The rights of the patient cover a broad range of moral and legal issues. The following are generally recognized as the rights of the patient across the world:

1. Right to be treated
2. Right to privacy
3. Right to know about the nature of illness and treatment required
4. The physician to keep information contained in patient’s record confidential unless its release is required by law
5. Right to have a clear idea about medical bills he or she has to pay
6. Right to have access to his or her medical records

Code of Medical Ethics

Almost up to the present century physicians were trained under an apprenticeship system, and each apprentice was required to take the Oath of Hippocrates. This code of ethics forms the basis of the Declaration of Geneva (1948) and the International Code of Medical Ethics (1949).

The Oath of Hippocrates

“I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and Allheal, and all the gods and goddesses.
That, according to my ability and judgement, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation – to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required;
To look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this Art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation;

And that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to discipline bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others. I will follow that system of regimen which according to my ability and judgement, I consider of the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion.

With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art.

I will not cut persons labouring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work.
Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and further from the seduction of females or males, of freedom and slaves.

Whatever, in connection with my professional practice or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.

While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the Art, respected by all men, in all times; But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot.” The foregoing Oath of Hippocrates have always been the foundation of all ethical relations in the practice of the art of healing.

International Code of Medical Ethics

The “International Code of Medical Ethics”, as adopted by the World Medical Association in London, in October 1949 is stated below:

Duties of Doctors in General:
A doctor must always maintain the highest standards of professional conduct. A doctor must not allow himself to be influenced merely by motives of profit. The following practices are deemed unethical;
a) Any self-advertisement except such as is expressly authorized by the national code of medical ethics.
b) Taking part in any plan of medical care in which the doctor does not have professional independence.
c) Receiving any money in connection with services rendered to a patient other than the acceptance of a proper professional fee.
Under no circumstances is a doctor permitted to do anything that would weaken the physical or mental resistance of a human being except from strictly therapeutic or prophylactic indications imposed in the interest of the patient.
A doctor is advised to use great caution in publishing discoveries. The same applies to methods of treatment whose value is not recognized by the profession. When a doctor is called upon to give evidence or a certificate, he should only state that which he can verify.

Duties of Doctors to the Sick
A doctor must always bear in mind the importance of preserving human life from the time of conception until death.
A doctor owes to his patient complete loyalty and all the resources of his science. Whenever an examination or treatment is beyond his capacity, he should summon another doctor who has necessary ability.
A doctor owes to his patient absolute secrecy which has been confided to him or which he knows because of the confidence entrusted to him.
A doctor must give the necessary treatment in emergency unless he is assured that it can and will be given by other.

Duties of Doctors to Each Other
A doctor ought to behave with his colleagues as he would have them behave with him.
A doctor must not entice patients from his colleagues.
A doctor must observe the principles of “the Declaration of Geneva” approved by the World Medical Association.