The duty to do the best for one's patient

J Med Ethics. 2015 Mar;41(3):220-3. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2013-101861. Epub 2014 Mar 6.


This paper is a discussion of the duty of doctors to do what is best for their patients. What is required by this duty is shown to depend on the circumstances, including any financial constraints on the doctor. The duty to do the best is a duty of benevolence, and this virtue itself has to be understood as bounded by other virtues, including justice and professional responsibility. An Aristotelian account of medical benevolence is developed, and the issues of supererogation and individual judgement are discussed within this framework. The paper ends with the claim that the patient-centred conception of benevolence defended in the paper is in line with consequentialist and deontological ethical traditions.

Keywords: Aristotle; beneficence; doctor-patient relationship; doing the best; virtue.

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence*
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethical Theory*
  • Humans
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Patient-Centered Care / ethics*
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Trust
  • United Kingdom
  • Virtues*