What does 'respect' mean? Exploring the moral obligation of health professionals to respect patients

J Gen Intern Med. 2007 May;22(5):692-5. doi: 10.1007/s11606-006-0054-7.


Respect is frequently invoked as an integral aspect of ethics and professionalism in medicine, yet it is often unclear what respect means in this setting. While we recognize that there are many reasonable ways to think about and use the term 'respect', in this paper, we develop a conception of respect that imposes a distinct moral duty on physicians. We are concerned mainly with the idea of respect for persons, or more specifically, respect for patients as persons. We develop an account of respect as recognition of the unconditional value of patients as persons. Such respect involves respecting the autonomy of patients, but we challenge the idea that respect for autonomy is a complete or self-sufficient expression of respect for persons. Furthermore, we suggest that the type of respect that physicians owe to patients is independent of a patient's personal characteristics, and therefore, ought to be accorded equally to all. Finally, the respect that we promote has both a cognitive dimension (believing that patients have value) and a behavioral dimension (acting in accordance with this belief).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Health Personnel / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Patient Rights
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*