The goals of medicine. Towards a unified theory

Health Care Anal. 2001;9(1):1-13. doi: 10.1023/A:1011385310274.


The purpose of this article is to present a normative theory of the goals of medicine (a theory that tells us in what respects medicine should benefit the patient) that is both comprehensive and unified. A review of the relevant literature suggests that there are at least seven plausible goals that are irreducible to each other, namely to promote functioning, to maintain or restore normal structure and function, to promote quality of life, to save and prolong life, to help the patient to cope well with her condition, to improve the external conditions under which people live, and to promote the growth and development of children. However, it seems that all these goals need to be qualified in different ways, e.g. it does not seem reasonable to improve physiological function or functional ability unless this is expected to have positive effects on quality of life and/or length of life, or to improve the quality of life in any respect, or by any means. These qualifications all suggest that the proposed goals are, as goals, conceptually, and not just causally, related to one another, and that they should therefore not be regarded in isolation. Instead, we should think of the medical enterprise as having a multidimensional goal structure rather than a single goal. In order to depict clearly how the different goals are related to one another, a multidimensional model is constructed.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Clinical Medicine*
  • Goals*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Quality of Life*
  • Right to Die
  • Therapeutics