Professionalism in healthcare consists of inseparable technical and ethical aspects. As healthcare professionals, we publicly avow that we are competent and willing to care for the sick, and we also vow that we will make this endeavor our way of life. To do this, we make a commitment to moral goodness and subordinating our own self-interests to the patient's good. Gaining competence in the art of healthcare requires years of intensive, systematic and intellectually rigorous study in a broad range of specialties. This pursuit of learning continues throughout our careers as we continually acquire new knowledge and improve our skills. It is the application of this knowledge, experience and clinical judgment to an individual patient that creates the art of healthcare.
Our patient decisions should arise from virtuous character in conformity with prudence in the principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for persons and justice. Excellent care must always be given, even if there is personal cost or physical danger. We have the moral responsibility to respect the worth and dignity of patients, who at all times are our equals as persons. In medical practice, interventions and recommendations are chosen to accommodate the patient’s perspective, as health is integrally related to the patient’s life goals, needs and personal values. Our primary goals as healthcare professionals are to preserve and restore health, to comfort or relieve suffering and always to care. We must be vigilant to avoid harm, whether that be adverse outcomes or the use of immoral means to desired ends.
Moral complicity with evil is culpable association with or participation in wrongful acts. Evil is defined as anything immoral or wrong based on ethical and moral principles. Questions about moral complicity with evil can arise in regard to an individual’s relationship to or involvement with past, present or future evil. Moral complicity may occur with the use of information, technology or materials obtained through immoral means. This complicity may involve using, rewarding, perpetuating, justifying or ignoring past or present evil. Moral complicity may involve enabling or facilitating future immoral actions of patients or professionals.
As healthcare professionals, we must strive to never commit evil ourselves, nor should we participate in or encourage evil by others. While it may be impossible at times to completely distance ourselves from the evil actions of others, we are responsible to determine whether our action is appropriately distanced or inappropriately complicit. Our motive must always be to promote good, never evil.
The following information focuses on the latest information about professionalism in healthcare and moral complicity:
- What Hippocrates Knew - D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
- Addressing Issues of Moral Complicity: When? Where? Why? and Other Questions - Robert Orr, MD, CM
- It's All In What You Call It - Watson Bowes, MD, FACOG
"The construct (of professionalism) is rooted in a person professing a moral obligation to those he or she serves. However, that obligation is no more reliable than the quality of character of the individual making the declaration. Hence, professionalism hinges on the character of professionals."
—Gene Rudd, MD
The American Academy of Medical Ethics promotes the interests of medical educators, medical practitioners and scientists, the care and well-being of patients, the protection of public health, and the betterment of the medical profession, as well as protects and promotes the historical values that have provided the longstanding foundation for Western healthcare. We foresee the standard of healthcare in North American once again defined by the Hippocratic tradition.
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