The ethics of everyday practice in primary medical care: responding to social health inequities

Philos Ethics Humanit Med. 2010 May 3;5:6. doi: 10.1186/1747-5341-5-6.


Background: Social and structural inequities shape health and illness; they are an everyday presence within the doctor-patient encounter yet, there is limited ethical guidance on what individual physicians should do. This paper draws on a study that explored how doctors and their professional associations ought to respond to the issue of social health inequities.

Results: Some see doctors as bound by a notion of care that is blind to a patient's social position, while others respond to this issue through invoking notions of justice and human rights where access to care is a prime focus. Both care and justice orientations however conceal important tensions linked to the presence of bioethical principles underpinning these. Other normative ethical theories like deontology, virtue ethics and utilitarianism do not provide adequate guidance on the problem of social health inequities either.

Conclusion: This paper explores if Bauman's notion of "forms of togetherness" provides the basis of a relational ethical theory that can help to develop a response to social health inequities of relevance to individual physicians. This theory goes beyond silence on the influence of social position of health and avoids amoral regulatory approaches to monitoring equity of care provision.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Moral Obligations
  • Morals
  • Patient Rights
  • Physician's Role
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Primary Health Care / ethics*
  • Social Justice*
  • Social Responsibility