There are four basic principles of medical ethics. Each addresses a value that arises in interactions between providers and patients. The principles address the issue of fairness, honesty, and respect for fellow human beings.

  • Autonomy: People have the right to control what happens to their bodies. This principle simply means that an informed, competent adult patient can refuse or accept treatments, drugs, and surgeries according to their wishes. People have the right to control what happens to their bodies because they are free and rational. And these decisions must be respected by everyone, even if those decisions aren’t in the best interest of the patient.

  • Beneficence: All healthcare providers must strive to improve their patient’s health, to do the most good for the patient in every situation. But what is good for one patient may not be good for another, so each situation should be considered individually. And other values that might conflict with beneficence may need to be considered.

  • Nonmaleficence: “First, do no harm” is the bedrock of medical ethics. In every situation, healthcare providers should avoid causing harm to their patients. You should also be aware of the doctrine of double effect, where a treatment intended for good unintentionally causes harm. This doctrine helps you make difficult decisions about whether actions with double effects can be undertaken.

  • Justice: The fourth principle demands that you should try to be as fair as possible when offering treatments to patients and allocating scarce medical resources. You should be able to justify your actions in every situation.