Medical ethics - Introduction
Deontology is a set of rights and duties attached to an activity. It is codified in various ways for many professions (doctors, lawyers, priests, judges, etc.) and is intrinsically linked to ethics, i.e. to personal and collective philosophical considerations. Professions considered to be in the public interest have generally their ethical rules governed by the law.
Medical deontology is made up of :
- Rules enshrined in the Constitution, laws and government decrees, judicial jurisprudence and administrative regulations
- Rules of professional ethics and disciplinary law (Code of Medical Ethics)
- Oaths taken on a generally non-compulsory basis (e.g. the Hippocratic Oath)
- Personal conscience (ethical and moral considerations specific to each physician)
It therefore varies greatly from country to country and from era to era. Although doctors are generally allowed relative freedom of interpretation, situations in which these different rules are likely to contradict each other are not uncommon (e.g.: doctors' involvement in lethal injections, end-of-life care, abortion, contraception, animal and human experimentation, etc.). Thus, without even mentioning cases of conscience, there are numerous instances of doctors being found guilty of respecting the imperatives of the medical profession, and vice versa.
Various chapters will be dealt with here:
- Legal framework of medical ethics
- Hippocratic Oath
- The doctor's role
- Code of medical ethics
- Law directly related to medical practice
The Codes of medical Ethics and legislations of most countries can be consulted online (e.g.: Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association and US legislation, Code of Ethics of the Belgian Medical Association and Belgian legislation).
Dr Shanan Khairi, MD