ethicsterminologyTABLE 67–2. Glossary of ethics terms
Altruism. The virtue of
acting for the good of another rather than for oneself, at times
Autonomy. Literally "self-rule." In
medical ethics, autonomy is the ability to make deliberated or reasoned
decisions for oneself and to act on the basis of such decisions.
Beneficence. An action
done to benefit others. The principle of beneficence in medicine
signifies an obligation to benefit patients and to seek what will
do them good.
Coercion. The use of some
form of pressure to persuade or compel an individual to agree to
a belief or action.
Compassion. Literally, "suffering
with" another person, with kindness and an active regard
for his or her welfare. Compassion is more closely related to empathy
than to sympathy, as sympathy connotes the more distanced experience
of "feeling sorry for" the individual.
Confidentiality. The obligation
of physicians not to disclose information obtained from patients
or observed about them without their permission. In clinical care,
it entails taking precautions to protect the personal information
about patients. Confidentiality is a privilege linked to the legal
right of privacy and may at times be overridden by exceptions stipulated
Conflict of interest. In
medicine, a situation in which a physician has competing roles,
relationships, or interests that could potentially interfere with
the ability to care for patients. Such situations may naturally
occur in clinical care and research, and they are not inherently
unethical. They must be recognized and managed appropriately to
safeguard the well-being of vulnerable individuals (e.g., patients,
research participants) and to prevent exploitative practices.
Empathy. Entering into
someone else's frame of reference in terms of thoughts,
feelings, and experiences, to have an authentic understanding of
the other person's experiences imaginatively as one's
Fidelity. The virtue of
promise keeping, truthfulness, and honor. In clinical care, it refers
to the faithfulness with which a clinician commits to the duty of
helping patients and acting in a manner that is in keeping with
the ideals of the profession.
Fiduciary. An entity in
a position of trust with a duty to act on behalf of another, for
the other's good. Physicians are fiduciaries with respect
to their patients.
Honesty. A virtue in which
one conveys the truth fully, without misrepresentation through deceit,
bias, or omission.
Human dignity. The principle
that every person, intrinsically, is valued and worthy of respect.
In medical ethics, every patient is believed to have innate and
inalienable worth as a human being that requires he or she be treated
with respect and compassion and full interpersonal regard as expressed
in attitudes, behaviors, and nondiscriminatory practices.
Informed consent. In the
clinical setting, a legal and ethical obligation for clinicians
to inform patients about their illness and alternatives for care
and to assist them in making reasoned, authentic decisions about
treatment. In the research setting, a similar obligation of a researcher
to inform participants about the research protocol and help them
make reasoned, authentic decisions about research participation.
Integrity. A virtue literally
defined as wholeness or coherence. It connotes professional soundness
and reliability of intention and action.
Justice. The ethical principle
of fairness. Distributive justice refers to the fair and equitable
distribution of resources and burden through society.
Medical decision making. The
intentional process associated with making a choice in clinical
care. It pertains to a patient's capacity to make decisions
related to his or her health or health care and to the clinician's
process of deliberation, consultation, and data gathering that results
in the development of a diagnosis and of therapeutic alternatives
for a patient.
Medical negligence. The
legal concept of a breach of duty of medical care. It rests on the
existence of a duty of care, failure to fulfill that duty, and resultant
Nonmaleficence. The duty
to avoid doing harm.
Personhood. Having full
moral status as a human being.
Quality of life. The expression
of a value judgment by an individual regarding the experience of
life as a whole or some aspect of it.
Respect. The virtue of
fully regarding and according intrinsic value to someone or something.
In clinical care, it is reflected in treating another individual
with genuine consideration and attentiveness to that person's
life history, values, and goals.
of one's own values and motivations. Self-understanding
based on insight and careful self-scrutiny is a key ethics skill
of special importance to mental health care ethics.
Therapeutic boundaries. The
set of concepts, rules, and duties that structures the clinician–patient
relationship to ensure psychological safety, to optimize therapeutic
benefit, and to prevent potentially exploitative practices.
Trustworthiness. A virtue
that pertains to a disposition that inspires confident belief in
and reliance on the physician's character and ability to
act beneficently and honestly.
Voluntariness. The attribute
in which a belief or act derives from one's own free will
and is not coerced or unduly influenced by others.
Vulnerability. The capacity
to be wounded or hurt physically, emotionally, spiritually, or socially
and being without the means to defend or advocate for oneself fully.